Monday, August 22, 2016

Climate change and air conditioning

Perhaps the least surprising news about economic "development" and climate change is that soon after a family in China (or similar) gets a TV, thoughts turn to the one device that helps them cope with their increasingly hot and miserable lives—air conditioning.  And it doesn't take long for people to view their artificially cooled lives as a necessity ranking right up there with a roof that keeps out the rain.

While it IS possible to build very comfortable structures that don't require tons of cooling, the easiest and most reliable way is to plunk down the money for that humming compressor that spits out cool air.  Those who try it tend to really like it,  Suddenly, miserable places are transformed into the Sun Belt.

The problem is that air conditioning is a notorious energy hog.  And when the electricity to run these things come from burning coal, massive cooling leads to hotter climates.  Of course, it doesn't have to be that way.  Cooling loads tend to be highest whenever the sun shines brightest.  Bingo.  Solar-powered cooling is physically possible so in theory, this should become one of the next big marketing opportunities.  We will see if that happens because right now, the boom in air conditioning is being supplied with technologies that assume electricity from a reliable power grid.

As the mercury soars, fear grows over ‘air-con effect’

Energy experts warn more reliance on air conditioning, particularly in China, will accelerate climate change

John Vidal, 15 August 2016

Most of the world will have air conditioning in their homes, workplaces and cars within 20 years, requiring thousands of power stations to be built and potentially accelerating climate change, energy experts say.

As temperatures shatter records worldwide in 2016 and Britain anticipates its second heatwave of the summer, demand for the technology is exploding.

“Globally, 2016 is poised to be another record-breaking year for temperatures. This means more air conditioning. Much more. It is becoming an air-conditioned world,” says Lucas Davis, an energy economist at the University of California in Berkeley.

“The growth in air conditioning has been staggering. China is the sweet spot. The number of households that have it has doubled in five years. Every year, 60 million more units are being sold there, eight times as many as are sold annually in the United States.”

As large developing countries such as India, Mexico, Indonesia and Brazil grow richer, staying cool may come to be seen as a necessity and not a luxury, leading to severe energy shortages and major environmental stress, says Davis.

“Air conditioning is wonderful. As people are coming out of poverty, they buy a TV, then a fridge, then a car and air conditioning. There are a lot of hot places where people are getting richer. As average temperatures increase, the reach of air conditioning will be extended, even to the relatively cool areas of the world where saturation is currently low,” he says.

But Davis, who expects nearly all households in warm countries to have air conditioning within 20 to 30 years, warns that the extra energy needed will be dramatic and could have huge consequences for global warming. “We are talking about hundreds of new power stations having to be built in China alone over the next 20 or 30 years,” he says.

His research is backed by the US government’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where researchers have calculated that 700 million air-conditioning units are likely to be installed worldwide by 2030 and 1.6 billion by 2050. Sales in Indonesia, Brazil and India have been growing 15% a year, it says.

Technologists say it’s not just warm countries switching from fans to air conditioning. “Offices, businesses, hospitals, shops and homes in Britain are all using air conditioning as buildings fill with computers, televisions and other heat-generating machines,” says a spokeswoman for the Institute of Refrigeration. In addition, she says, better insulation in new buildings traps heat and it is too noisy in cities to have windows open: “The way we live now increases the need for air conditioning.”

Cooling systems may already account for about 10% of total electricity consumption in the UK , says the UK Building Research Establishment. It estimates that 65% of UK office space and 30% of UK retail space was air conditioned in 2012.

The UN’s climate change body, the IPCC, has projected that global air-conditioning energy demand will grow 33-fold from 300 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2000 to more than 10,000TWh in 2100, with most of the growth coming in developing economies.

“10,000TWh is roughly half the total electricity generated worldwide in 2010,” says Martin Freer, director of Birmingham university’s Energy Institute. In a recent report, which he co-authored, Freer says: “Worldwide energy demand for space cooling will overtake space heating by 2060, and outstrip it by 60% at the end of the century, as cooling demand in the developing countries of the global south grows faster than heating demand in the developed northern economies.”

But in a world already warming because of fossil fuel emissions from oil, gas and coal, demand for air conditioning and refrigeration is seen as one of the greatest accelerants of climate change.

“If nothing is done, within 15 years cooling will require an additional 139 GW – more than the generating capacity of Canada – and raise greenhouse gas emissions by over 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, three times the current energy emissions of Britain,” says Freer.

Concern is also mounting over a class of chemicals widely used in refrigerants and air-conditioning units. Hydrofluorocarbons, which have largely replaced CFCs, which were found to damage the ozone layer, are potent greenhouse gases. Although they are far less significant today than CO2 for global warming, if the numbers of refrigeration and air-conditioning units explode as expected, they could add to the problem.

“The data is poor, but one estimate suggests that refrigeration and air conditioning cause 10% of global CO2 emissions – three times more than is attributed to aviation and shipping combined, through energy consumption and leaks of HFC refrigerants that are themselves highly potent greenhouse gases,” says Freer.

“As climate change increases outdoor temperatures, air conditioning will more often be used to maintain comfortable indoor conditions. Climate change is expected to stimulate installation of air conditioning in some buildings that would otherwise not need air conditioning.”

Policymakers from across the world met recently in Vienna to agree to phase out HFCs but some countries are nervous about the extra cost of changing to alternative refrigerants. Researchers in India have estimated it could cost the country tens of billions of dollars. more

Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Russia really going to throw Neoliberalism overboard?

Those of us who hail from the heterodox economic traditions keep wondering in some amazement at the persistence of neoliberal thought.  I mean, how much evidence of failure will it take to discredit these people?  We have had major meltdowns and corruption on a scale so vast that it boggles the mind in just the last 25 years and yet the persistence of belief marches on.  It's not that I have not had experience with this sort of behavior before.  My mother once got a letter from a 95-year-old friend who was very sick.  In spite of his age and health, he closed with a paragraph stating that he was still convinced that the Lord Jesus Christ was coming back during his lifetime to take him home to heaven.  He had believed that he would be Raptured since he was a teenager—why stop now?  He died in less than two weeks.

This is what I think of when I read that some neoliberal believes that high interest rates are good for the economy or that privatizing a public good leads to greater prosperity.  Makes a belief in the Rapture look positively enlightened by comparison.  In the case of Russia, we find the toxic waste of neoliberalism crippling an economy already under stress from organized economic sanctions and a dramatic fall in the price for oil—Russia's big deal export.  Russia's economy should logically be on a wartime footing given the external threat.  And yes, there have been some remarkably successful war economies organized in traditionally capitalist havens (see USA 1941-45).  If you look at these successful war economies, they look almost nothing like neoliberalism.  So why has V. Putin chosen to keep the Yeltsin-era neoliberals around to mismanage his economy when almost anything else would make his country stronger and more able to cope with external threats?  Good. Damn. Question.

It turns out Mr. Putin has been asking this very question.  And he looks like he is about to throw some neoliberals overboard.  If he thinks the western press has been hostile, wait until his tries ridding himself of the official economic religion.  Insane Tyrant will be the kindest description by the folks at the Guardian.

Of course, this conversion to a more rational economics may still be wishful thinking.  The writers below who argue that Russia is going to try something else, Engdahl, Hudson, and Roberts, are known critics of the neoliberal madness.  They want someone (with a reasonable chance of success) to try the heterodox methods.  There is a lot of pride on the line here.  I know how that feels.  It has been nearly 30 years now since I first reassembled the most successful ideas of the USA Progressives from 1873-1973—the effort that led to Elegant Technology.  With every bump and crash that demonstrates once again how neoliberalism tends towards Gilded Age Neofeudalism I ask myself—will anyone with the necessary clout ever stand up to this crazy thinking?  It's only the survival of the species that's at stake, after all.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Ellen Brown on Green Party economics

Ellen Brown probably knows more about the history of the various monetary debates that have swept USA since before it was a nation than anyone I can think of.  So we can reasonably assume that she has some grasp of just how difficult it is to mount a meaningful assault on the conventional "wisdom" of the "sound money" crowd.  The fiat currency folks have all the good arguments on their side and have been supported by such luminaries as Franklin, Peter Cooper, and Edison.  Yet even today, someone like Hillary Clinton is at least as big a monetary reactionary as William McKinley.  I honestly have no idea why the sound money crowd never seems to go away no matter how many economic disasters can be laid at their door.  But my best guess is that the simplicity of their argument must connect with the public's inner moron.

And so our dear Ellen keeps on trucking.  Like most people of her worldview, she seems to think that some day people will tire of the non-stop disaster that is neoliberalism and want an alternative.  And by gawd, she has found several.  So today she dissects the economic arguments of Jill Stein, the head of the Green Party ticket, and finds quite a lot to recommend it.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

You simply must see this—Assange on the state of USA elections

Julian Assange special: Do Wikileaks have the email that will put Hillary Clinton in prison? (E376)6 Aug, 2016

Afshin Rattansi goes underground with Julian Assange. We talk to the founder of Wikileaks about how the recent DNC leaks have no connection to Russia. Plus what are Hillary Clinton's connections to Islamic State, Saudi Arabia and Russia?

It must be odd to be Julian Assange.  He is trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy which is far from the worst place to sit out official persecution—think Martin Luther in the Wittenberg Castle.  Except that Assange is hooked into the global intelligence in ways that Luther couldn't even imagine.  And because of his ability to view documents that are meant to be hidden, he is arguably the most informed human to have ever lived.

Not surprisingly, since his mission in life seems to be exposing liars, his focus tends to be on the Leisure / Predator classes—because that is where liars tend to congregate.  From a Producer POV, for once I am not insulted by being ignored.  After all, a passionate devotion to honesty is the top drawer of the Producer toolset.  So GO Julian!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Environmental records shattered

Well, the scientists have once again delivered the very bad news—climate change is now definitely underway and these crazy-hot summers are the new normal.  People are getting very frightened and are becoming very impatient that the brains that can measure this change are not proposing genuine strategies for how to cope.  And time is running out.

I have been beavering away at producing my version of a serious strategy but it is a ton of work and I have the ambition of a 67-year-old man who sometimes gets beaten down by the magnitude of the problem.  On the other hand, getting back up to speed with Adobe After Effects has been fun.  I am pretty sure the last time I used it it was version 4.x and now it's up to 13.8.  So because it's Adobe, every button has been moved (gaaah).  The good news is that it is much more versatile.

I want to use every tool I can find to make things VERY clear.  After all, climate change is easily the biggest problem that has ever faced the human species.  However, the methods to solve this massive problem are well within the range of human possibilities.  The goal is to convey these two messages as understandably as possible.

And so I am actually working on an extremely positive story.  I only hope I have the energy to finish this monster.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Essays on the Democratic National Convention

As a young political junkie, I used to watch the political conventions with an almost religious fervor.  I stayed up to watch Barry Goldwater deliver his "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" speech from the Cow Palace in 1964.  I watched George McGovern deliver his "Come Home America" acceptance speech delivered at 3:00 am in 1972.  I sputtered in helpless rage as the Chicago police rioted in 1968 essentially beating anyone they could reach.  But as political conventions became more scripted, they became a whole lot less interesting.  This year I made a conscious effort to not watch these circuses.  I am just too old to survive such intense lying.

Of course, this doesn't mean I wasn't curious about the proceedings.  So I watched Colbert's coverage and read dispatches on sites I trusted.  And if these reports are to be believed—and there is no reason not to—these gatherings were even worse than I had imagined they would be.  Here are three of the best dispatches from the front.

First up we have an angry and heartfelt blast from Margot Kidder who was raised outside the bubble of "American Exceptionalism."  Swaggering arrogance is never welcome but when it comes dressed in the garb of the best the MIC has to offer, it becomes positively revolting and there is probably no way Ms. Kidder could be talked down from her righteous rage—even by someone like me who detests "exceptionalism" as much as she does.  So I'll just say, "You Go Girl."

Next we find Jeffrey St. Claire pointing out some of the absurdities of the Democratic Convention. (He even quotes Hunter Thompson.) It's quite a list and he still probably missed a few.  The problem the Democrats have is they claim to represent the interests of the average Joe—the same average Joe who hasn't had a raise since 1973—while in fact they have become an arm of global predatory lending.  Then there is the problem of promoting an "It Takes a Village" concern for humanity while at the same time promoting a belligerent militarism that would make Dr. Strangelove cringe.

Finally we get a report about the Wikileaks disclosure of the shenanigans practiced at the DNC against Bernie Sanders. Writer Patrick Lawrence marvels at the speed which this story of political corruption became a story about the evils of Putin and Russian intelligence.  Now I have NO idea if this is Putin's handiwork—Lord knows he has plenty of reasons to loathe Hillary Clinton.  But those of us who believe in fair elections must celebrate whoever posted the evidence that the Democratic nominating process was rigged.  My guess is that this point will be lost because after all, fair elections are not nearly so profitable and amusing as a new Cold War will be.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Historical Context of Mercantilism, Republicanism, Liberalism and Neoliberalism

After the financial crash of 2007-2008 caused an economic collapse, and after it became clear that the Bush and Obama administrations were unwilling to actually investigate, prosecute and incarcerate financial and banking executives for the crimes committed, many politically active people in USA and other countries began to dig deep into the philosophy of political economy that had allowed the financial industry to occupy such an overwhelming position of dominance over the rest of the economy.

The philosophical wreckage they have been excavating has generally come to be called "neoliberalism." It is a word which confuses many people, because it serves as a name for a set of economic beliefs and policies which are more easily recognized as being associated with political conservatism and libertarianism: the opening of the Wikipedia entry on "neoliberalism" is accurate enough on these economic beliefs and policies, which "include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy." Generally, neoliberals believe that markets with untrammeled pricing mechanisms are a much fairer and more efficient means of allocating society's resources than any level of government oversight and intervention.

Neoliberals themselves actively seek to add to the confusion by denying they have a shared, coherent philosophy. A good, recent example—and from someone who is a self-professed "liberal" not a conservative—was this comment on DailyKos this past week: “Neoliberalism is not actually a thing.” It is exactly what neo-liberals themselves say. It is a smokescreen, intended to confuse and stymie inquiry. Philip Mirowski, a historian of economic thought at Notre Dame, and co-editor of one of the best expositions of neo-liberalism (The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, Harvard University Press, 2009; now available in paperback), took on this deception earlier this year in a paper entitled, The Political Movement that Dared not Speak its own Name.

Mirowski’s response to the severe reaction of neoliberals to his paper was posted to Naked Capitalism in April 2016: Philip Mirowski: This is Water, or Is It the Neoliberal Thought Collective?
I do not recommend anyone go read the above links right now, unless you are already familiar with the debate over neoliberalism and are prepared for some hefty intellectual lifting. For those people unfamiliar with the term “neoliberalism” and seeking to understand how it differs from liberalism, I recommend this excellent review of another book, including many of the comments in the thread, on
Naked Capitalism in March 2015: Comments on David Harvey’s “A Brief History of Neoliberalism”.

These are all excellent discussions and expositions of neoliberalism. Also excellent is the work of Corey Robin. See, for example, When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism before Clinton, from April 2016, and Robin's response to critics. Robin puts his finger on a diseased main artery in our political discourse today, when he writes neoliberals, even those, such as Barack Obama and the Clintons, who refuse to call themselves neoliberals,
would recoil in horror at the policies and programs of mid-century liberals like Walter Reuther or John Kenneth Galbraith or even Arthur Schlesinger, who claimed that “class conflict is essential if freedom is to be preserved, because it is the only barrier against class domination.”
My own conclusion thus far is that much confusion will persist until neoliberalism is understood in the historical context of USA political economy, along with three other terms crucial to understanding this history:





Friday, July 22, 2016

Karl Polanyi and the Coming U.S. Election

I first noticed Bill Neal's writing many, many years ago. He always has some startling insights or turns of phrases that make his articles a welcome respite from the torrent of half-baked hash that now passes for news reporting and commentary. Neal's article is especially important now, because since Hillary Clinton has clinched the Democratic nomination, there has been what appears to me to be a concerted effort to drown out any discussion of neo-liberalism. Neal is especially good at identifying and highlighting the social and cultural implications of neo-liberalism.

Karl Polanyi and the Coming U.S. Election

by William R. Neal

It’s hard not to notice, during the American Presidential election drama, that despite all the debates and speeches, and multiple candidates, the terms “Neoliberalism” and “austerity” have yet to be employed, much less explained, these being the two necessary words to describe the dominant economic “regime” of the past 35 years. And this despite the fact that most observers recognize that a “populist revolt” driven by economic unhappiness is underway via the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. With Trump, of course, we are getting much more, the uglier side of American populism: racism, xenophobia and misogyny, at least; the culture wars at a higher pitch.

Yet when Trump commented on the violence which canceled his Chicago rally on the evening of March 11th, he stated that the underlying driver of his supporters’ anger is economic distress, not the ugly cultural prejudices. The diagnoses for the root cause of this anger thus lie at the heart of the proposed solutions. For students of the Great Depression, this will sound very familiar. That is because, despite many diversions and sub-currents, we are really arguing about a renewed New Deal versus an ever more purified laissez-faire, the nineteenth century term for keeping government out of markets – once those markets had been constructed. “Interventions,” however, as we will see, are still required, because no one, left or right, can live with the brutalities of the workings of “free markets” except as they exist in the fantasyland of the American Right.

Americans have never been known to be systematic thinkers about policy matters, least of all in an election year, but still, it is a remarkable thing not to be able to name in public forums the ideas which have ruled the economics profession for decades now and therefore the policy options of elected officials who turn to economists for guidance. Barry Goldwater, renowned, if not done in, for his candor, had no difficulty naming the system he opposed in his acceptance speech in San Francisco, 1964, or in his ghostwritten book, the Conscience of a Conservative: it was liberalism in all its forms, but especially its interventions into private markets - Keynesianism. For Goldwater, that included federal Civil Rights legislation and even Social Security.

Therefore, some clarification is called for when deploying these two terms, or the Market Fundamentalism/Market Utopianism others have chosen, myself included, to more polemically describe the dominant economic orthodoxy of our time.

By Neoliberalism it is meant the revival of “classical economics” which first arose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England, with the founders’ famous names living on into our own time: Smith, Ricardo, Townsend, Malthus, Mill and Bentham and a few others. Early economic writers tended to reach into the world of biology, of Nature, for their metaphors and analogies, and these excursions had two main tendencies: to cite nature’s cooperative features, or alternatively, its tooth and claw brutalities, which was Malthus’ grim legacy, one which we have not fully shaken to this day. Continuing this tradition, classical economics later flirted seriously with Social Darwinism (see the influence of William Graham Sumner in the U.S. and Herbert Spencer in England), almost becoming engaged to it, and then underwent the “micro” revolution of marginal costs in the late 19th century as the profession strained for its “scientific” laurels.

David Harvey, the prolific, polymath Marxist writer, links the term Neoliberal to the later Victorian economists – Alfred Marshall, William Jevons and Leon Walras - who succeeded their earlier classical colleagues from the first decades of the 19th century. But the realities of the past 30 years in America leads one back to the primal cruelties described by Karl Polanyi in those early industrial days, in his masterpiece The Great Transformation, and the religious intensity of the first classicals, not the later Victorian ones, those who worked in an era when life for workers was supposed to have gotten much better, although the London of those better days still horrified savvy American observers like Jane Addams of the Settlement House movement.

Neoliberalism was later greatly influenced by the conservative work - the defense of markets against governmental interventions - of Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises (The preference here is to keep the “von” in the names: it makes them sound more sinister…) in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and Milton Friedman in the 1970’s, thinking which eventually eclipsed the Keynesian “revolution” of the 1930’s, and its demand-labor focused “macro” policies and accompanying federal fiscal interventions. Friedman’s great debates with John Kenneth Galbraith in the 1970’s usefully date the decline of Keynesianism for the general public, and the rise of “supply-side” economics: keeping entrepreneurs happy (and hopefully, inventive) through tax breaks without end. Many of us recall the linking of justice in-the-law with justice in-the- economy, courtesy of the old Smith Barney television advertisements from the 1980’s, starring John Houseman from the movie The Paper Chase: these noble stock brokers “make money the old fashioned way, they earn it.” Decided British accent too, he had.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Talk about soft power!

One of the frustrations of looking at climate change from the perspective of the installed infrastructure, is realizing that compared to the problems of actually constructing the solar-powered society, figuring out how to pay for it is reduced to a few important monetary experts deciding which existing buttons to push.  All they must do is change their minds.

Today we look at a report by Bill Engdahl on just how hard it is to change economic minds in Russia.  Keep in mind that Russia's conversion back to "western-style-capitalism" happened at a most inopportune time.  Had that decision been taken in say, 1953, it would have likely had a much happier outcome.  In those days, the USA economists running around advising governments were mostly products of the New Deal / WWII.  They had pretty clear ideas of how to organize large-scale projects, put people to work, reduce income inequality, etc.  The guys who went to advise the "fallen" USSR after 1989 were, all of them, doctrinaire neoliberals.  The outcome was a disaster.  Life expectancies fell and the economy shrank more than the USA during the great depression.  Worst of all, Russia got into hock with the IMF / World Bank which insured they got regular doses of bad neoliberal advice.

One would think that after such a near-death experience, Russia would have thrown neoliberalism in all its forms on the trash-heap of history.  She would have plenty of justification for doing just that.  Yet as Engdahl reports, doctrinaire neoliberals hold important spots in the management of the Russian economy.  What is even more depressing is that these people have been rewarded with enough spifs over the last 25 years so that the idea that their crackpot theories are damaging their own economy is literally unthinkable.  Imagine  yourself a Russian economist.  You know that Marxism was an ongoing catastrophe so the alternative had to be tried.   So here come the experts from Harvard trying to explain how to build a better economy.  Little do you know that the economics they are peddling was, not so long ago, so discredited that George H.W.Bush called it "voodoo."  And then Margaret Thatcher explained that There Is No Alternative.  So the One True Faith is a set of ideas so ridiculously stupid and historically discredited that only a Harvard / Stanford / U Chicago indoctrination will induce an otherwise sentient being into accepting their validity.

I sincerely hope that the Russians figure it out.  This is an important nation with seemingly boundless potential.  In addition, the solar age will not happen without their enthusiastic participation.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Wall Street's Fraud and Illusion of Social Utility

On April 5 2016, someone posted a story on DailyKos assailing Senator Sanders’ claim that “the business model of Wall Street is fraud.” I was shocked to see the story had enough support to elevate it to the DK recommended list, despite these provably false statements: say that the “business model of Wall Street” is fraud “to a significant degree” is completely irresponsible.  Do you know what else is part of their business model?  Helping enterprises raise capital in order to innovate and grow and provide goods and services to the economy.
On reflection, I realized that there are a lot of new people reading DailyKos who are—how to put this politely?—not completely aware of certain facts. Once or twice a year, Kos proudly notes how many more people are reading this site—which is great and certainly something to be proud of. But, it obviously means that we need to begin a new cycle of educating people about economics, banking, finance, Wall Street, and so on. The facts clearly show that Wall Street is NOT a net benefit to society, but a major reason why the United States continues to suffer poor economic performance for the bottom ninety percent of Americans.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Economic warmongering

As someone who was aware enough to be scared shitless by the Cold War, I find it distressing, to say the least, that there are those who think getting into another face off with Russia and China is somehow a good idea.  The Cuban Missile Crises was not fun for someone in eighth grade.  I was ecstatic when the Wall came down because I mistakenly believed we were finally going to see an end to this madness.  I had forgotten that the forces of institutional memory meant that people who had jobs in government or academe making up shameless lies about the USSR, had almost no other skills when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved.  So now they propose to make war in all its various forms against Putin's Russia.

Supposedly Putin's great international crime was the annexation of Crimea.  Considering that USSR lost approximately 500, 000 in the various pitched battles with the Nazis in WW II over Crimea, the idea that the West was going to get Crimea on the cheap by staging a coup in the Ukraine is insane.  This is a beloved piece of real estate to the Russians ever since Catherine the Great got it away from the Ottoman Empire.  Russia's Navy is headquartered in Sevastopol.  Russia's rich built vacation cottages there.  Think a combination of San Diego and Palm Springs paid for with a lot of blood.  The Crimeans, most of them ethnic Russians, took one look at the chaos and corruption in the Ukraine and overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia.  They couldn't believe their good fortune.

And so we see NATO last week make more menacing moves on the borders of Russia.  Of course, anyone who would actually risk a land war with Russia has to explain why they think they know more about fighting in Russia than Hitler and Napoleon.  So the whole standoff comes down to threats of a nuclear exchange—Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)—and these days, one might suspect that Russia's missiles are better cared for than our own.  So that's out. That leaves economics as the weapon of last resort.  And while the smug financial Masters of the Universe may assume they have the upper hand in such a conflict, neoliberalism is looking shaky these days, payment systems can be replicated, and new trade connections made.  I am certain there are many Russians who will argue that economics sanctions have been a good thing because it forced them brush up on their legendary self-reliance.  And institutional memory means that the growing relationship with China is walking down some familiar hallways.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The British people have forfeited the confidence of their government

The Saker is not a big fan of the USA empire.  Anyone who has carefully followed the crimes of humanity carried out in the name of said empire eventually reaches a stage where even the tiniest stumble of the global ruling class is cause for at least a little celebration.  So there is a small amount of celebration mixed here with a stern warning of what how the Empire will react to a rejection from one of the founding members, and arguably the main inventor and designer of that Empire.  Brexit made a lot of very rich people very angry—not least because a lot of them lost a large pile of money.  Brexit was a peasants' revolt and like such revolts in the past, the big hammer is about to drop.  The slander against the peasants has already started.

While I am not so certain that the ruling classes are beyond redemption or as unwilling to accept a new set of operating instructions as The Saker.  In fact, I grew up in a country that had accepted Keynesianism as an alternate instruction set to the neoliberal swill that dominates economics today.  It was what made the economy so much better for the average worker that even today, that is what made the old days "good" in the minds of so many—especially the Brexit supporters in the English Midlands.

But the Saker is probably right for one simple reason—the English economy today, such as it is, is mostly the banksters in London doing things that are criminal or should be.  Hoping a criminal will go straight is usually misplaced because going straight is so much more difficult and risky than making money by stealing.  Criminals usually win because they will stop at nothing.  Crushing a peasants' revolt is a small price to pay to keep that gravy train rolling.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Will Brexit spread?

The Full Monty, a film set in Sheffield England is a sad but whimsical account of how six unemployed steelworkers attempt to scare up some money by becoming strippers.  While taking off one's clothes is considerably easier than making steel, organizing an act that will actually pay is difficult enough and at the end of the movie when the steelworker-strippers are lustily cheered by a house full of drunken women, there is a sense of accomplishment that passes for a happy ending.

Of course, this happy ending is all fiction.  The real story of Sheffield is far more miserable.  This city had been the heart and soul of English steelmaking since they started making knives in the 14th century.  In the 1740s, Benjamin Huntsman perfected a superior method for making crucible steel and by the 1850s, Henry Bessemer had moved to town with his vastly improved steel process.  Steel was now a mass-produced product and by 1900, Sheffield's population had grown to 491,000.  In 1973, the UK joined the EU.  In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher "rationalized" Sheffield out of the steel business in an EU-wide restructuring of the industry.   Sheffield was probably targeted because of its long association with trade unionism. 120,000 people lost their jobs.  Sheffield lost its reason to exist.  And even if six of those ex-workers had managed a one-night payoff for going The Full Monty, that still leaves them suffering through an existential nightmare for over 30 years.

A.R. Heathcotes & Co - Steelworks

So guess what?  The people of Sheffield voted to leave the EU.  The vote was closer than in the surrounding countryside because Sheffield itself has become something of center for immigrant settlement.  But the folks who remembered what happened to their city and lives were still enough to carry the day.

The EU is failing for one simple reason. It is based on a ridiculously stupid idea—neoliberalism.  That idea set has been around since forever and can be directly implicated in such disasters as the Panic of 1873 and the Great Depression.  You can fill libraries with solid evidence why these crackpot ideas don't work.  Well, they do work for a tiny few who can afford to buy the economic conversation.  Explain to me how someone in Sheffield whose life is as disaster can EVER relate to people who spout meaningless neoliberal platitudes that were so carefully drilled into their heads as part of their "elite" educations.

What EU doesn't understand is that most people, if given a chance, would gladly throw their smug butts into a dungeon, but will at least vote to get them out of their lives.  Because while most detest the arrogance of our precious "elites," what really infuriates people is that they are so utterly incompetent at building a Europe that actually works for its citizens.

Some pretty good stuff is being written about Brexit.  The ruling class usually gets its way.  And goodness knows, they have a good chance of getting their way this time.  But for a brief moment, they have caught a glimpse of what a world looks like where they don't pick the outcome even after buying up the economics profession, the newspapers, and damn near all the politicians.  It's getting harder to bullshit people.  This is a story worth writing about.
  • The first article today asks a most obvious question, "why does the so-called left defend the EU?"
  • Alexander Mercouris speculates on the spread of Brexit, The US, the EU and the Spectre of Brexit
  • Finally, Michael Hudson snickers about the vast fortunes lost by folks betting the wrong way on Brexit.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit, oh my

As someone who has long held the EU with suspicion, if not outright contempt, I suppose I should be celebrating that the Brits have voted to leave that poisoned organization.  But mostly, I feel fear and resignation because these votes rarely change anything.  The EU has a long history of forcing countries to keep voting until they get it "right."  Worse, the EU's fatal flaw is that it is essentially a neoliberal project and merely getting rid of it won't change much because the UK is awash in committed, home-grown neoliberals—including many in the leadership of the Brexit campaign.  In fact, outside of the campus of the University of Chicago, it would be hard to imagine anyplace where neoliberalism is more widespread and more pure than the Sceptered Isle.  In any case, the mechanics of actually leaving the EU are so convoluted that it will require an absolute minimum of two years to accomplish the task.

If the EU was in fact NOT a neoliberal project, it would probably be the glowing achievement envisioned by it founders.  But it isn't.  So the great task in front of those who are horrified by what the EU has become is to come up with a replacement for neoliberalism, not trash the organizational structure of the offices in Brussels.  Keynes explained the problem best.
“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Operation Barbarossa—75 years on

On Jun 22 1941, the Germans unleashed their by-now well practiced Blitzkrieg on the Soviet Union.  The result would leave nearly 27 million dead from USSR alone.  The destruction was mind-boggling.  If USA had suffered such an invasion, everything from the Atlantic to the Mississippi would have been destroyed.  And yet, because the Soviet Union is so large, they were able to fall back and mount a spectacular defense / counterattack that destroyed the greatest German Armies and eventually drove them back to Berlin.

Yes, we who were born after 1945 in USA have never been told this story.  This is a damn shame because without understanding Barbarossa, not much that happened in the next 50 years made much sense.

Interestingly battle for Russia was reported magnificently in a documentary by one of USA's best film-makers—Frank Capra.  The footage he uses was often shot under dangerous and dificult conditions.  It has been lovingly restored by the US National Archives and is on YouTube.  Or right here.  Watch this and see if it doesn't add a great deal to your worldview.

Monday, June 20, 2016

ExxonMobil CEO: ending oil production is 'not acceptable for humanity'

We want the oil companies to be more enlightened than they are.  Unfortunately, MOST of the criticism of Big Oil is mistaken to the point of goofiness.  Whenever I hear someone go off on oil companies, I want to shout, "If you think these folks are so evil, stop doing business with them."  Of course, that will never happen because people need energy to survive.  Most folks would be in terrible trouble if their energy supplies were cut off for 72 hours.  Fuels are used to grow their food and get it to their kitchens, keep them warm, heat their water, cook their food, etc!  And if their energy supplies were cut off at the wrong time, such as when they were in the middle of heart surgery, they would die in minutes.  Besides, a large number of people would lose their pensions if the oil industry were closed down.

Then there is the reality of the oil business itself.  It takes around 20,000,000 barrels per day to keep the USA running.  That folks, is a LOT of oil.  The people I know in oil are absolutely in awe of that number and spend most of their working lives scrambling to supply that vast ocean of fuels.  The oil companies almost never advertise because people come in to buy whenever that pointer goes to E.  And to get that oil, the oil giants travel to some of the most inhospitable places on earth and deal with some of the most violent and well-armed governments.  They know what they do is important and that it requires the dedication of hard-working, intelligent, and often extremely brave people.  And they don't suffer fools gladly.

The ONLY solution for burning fossil fuels is to come up with another way to power the society without them.  Now it would be nice if the oil companies were working on that problem, but considering the size of the problems they must solve on a daily basis, it is probably a bit much to expect them to take on another insanely difficult challenge.  And so we discover that the folks who figured out how to make affordable solar panels came from the computer industry—specifically the people who figured out how to coat glass with semiconductors.  I found out not long ago that the key actor was Applied Materials—the people who made the tools necessary to fabricate integrated circuits.  There is also an excellent Youtube on how all this was accomplished (about 30 minutes).

Monday, June 13, 2016

New journalism—what happens when mainstream media becomes hated by all?

The commercial "mainstream" media has been in trouble for quite awhile now.  I pretty much gave up on it in 1982.  After four years of microscopically examining the flaws of the Carter administration, I realized that the same "journalists" were going to give Reagan a free pass for policy and administrative decisions that were far worse than anything Carter had done.  I decided that watching such outright lying and abject stupidity was probably bad for my health and one day, I just stopped watching the newscasts and reading the daily papers.  As a news junkie since junior high, this was harder than I thought it would be.  Finding alternative news sources turned out to be difficult and expensive and the closest newsstand that sold what I was looking for was a 14-mile round trip.  So yes, I cheated.  I'd flip on CBS or PBS on occasion to see if I was missing something interesting or important.  Mostly I confirmed that infotainment was just as big a time-waster as I remembered.

There was also a fascinating outlet for my political and social curiosity.  About the same time, I stumbled across my maternal grandfather's reading list from the 1920s.  He was a regular customer of the output of a Girard Kansas progressive publishing house run by a relocated Philadelphia lawyer named Emanuel Haldeman-Julius.  His main product were these nickel and dime books for the working man called The Little Blue Books.  Soon, I met a guy who had boxes of these things and would eventually read over 400 of them.  It was the most incredible intellectual experience of my life.
The novelist Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) described the Haldeman-Julius publications in his autobiography and their potential influence:

Riding a freight train out of El Paso, I had my first contact with the Little Blue Books. Another hobo was reading one, and when he finished he gave it to me. The Little Blue Books were a godsend to wandering men and no doubt to many others. Published in Girard, Kansas, by Haldeman-Julius, they were slightly larger than a playing card and had sky-blue paper covers with heavy black print titles. I believed there were something more than three thousand titles in all and they were sold on newsstands for 5 or 10 cents each. Often in the years following, I carried ten or fifteen of them in my pockets, reading when I could. Among the books available were the plays of Shakespeare, collections of short stories by De Maupassant, Poe, Jack LondonGogol, Gorky, Kipling, Gautier, Henry James, and Balzac. There were collections of essays by Voltaire, Emerson, and Charles Lamb, among others. There were books on the history of music and architecture, painting, the principles of electricity; and, generally speaking, the books offered a wide range of literature and ideas. […] In subsequent years I read several hundred of the Little Blue Books, including books by Tom Paine, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Huxley.
So no, I did not miss being lied to by folks who were turning CBS News into light fiction.  And when I got connected to the internet, any reason to look at commercial news utterly vanished.  As I say these days, "Ignorance is a choice!"  But the internet is not an unvarnished blessing.  In fact, most of what's there is crazy and ignorant.  But here's the deal—even if the internet is 98% rubbish, the remaining 2% is worth knowing.  And 2% of all of human knowledge is more that the brightest among us can hope to absorb in a lifetime.  So the bigger question is, "How do you find the worthy 2%?"

Actually, I have a BS filter that works so well, I barely think about it any more.  But recently, I had a young man ask me how I felt so sure-footed in separating the wheat from the chaff.  My answer had two parts.
  • Even with the internet, it still helps to read the books written by those who were there when the great human ideals were invented.  
  • Never scorn as unimportant the little factoids that describe how the world works.  It may not seem a big deal to know that water runs downhill or that the suns rises and sets in a different place each day with a certainty that can be predicted for centuries in advance. But you would be astonished at how many arguments fail to meet such simple intellectual standards.  Even better, large complex arguments can be constructed from a multitude of smaller facts that are beyond rational debate.
Predictions of the death of mainstream journalism have been around for a couple of decades now.  I figured the time for these dinosaurs was past when I saw of survey conducted by the Washington Post where over 30% did not want delivery of the Post—even if it was free.  Of course, Washington is a town where people still use fax machines and the nation's nuclear arsenal is controlled by an ancient computer system that uses 8" floppies.  So I would imagine that the pundits who share the inside-the-beltway thinking will be the very last to know that the Post is not a useful and reliable news source.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Political update—is this the best we can do?

Politics is beyond depressing these days.  Yes I know, I am the one who argues that the big problems can only be solved by putting the Producer Classes back to work.  The best that politics can accomplish is to make it possible for the Producers to organize into a major problem-solving mode.  The worst they can do is divert all the community's spare change into their own bank accounts—they certainly can get in the way.

The idea that we can afford to waste another four years diddling while the earth burns is beyond obscene.  We just wasted the last eight years getting almost nothing done and since Hillary promises to be four more years of Obama, there is little hope for improvement.  And Trump is a climate change denier.  The guy owns some expensive Florida beach-front property so the evidence that the climate is changing is set to wash up on his lawn.  And since he does have a few Producer tendencies, he might be open to some enlightenment if he could be convinced that doing something was up his alley, but that is expecting a big conversion.

The good news is that Bernie Sanders has demonstrated just how large an audience there is for a Progressive / Populist message and how possible it is to access them with a combination of the internet and live appearances.  That he got so many votes is miraculous.  Here in Minnesota he won 60-40.  And I am pretty sure that not one person made a pro-Bernie voting decision reading the Minneapolis Tribune or watching WCCO.  Sanders did run some professionally-produced ads on local TV but I am not sure those moved votes either.  Changes in communication technology tend to lead to major social change like the printing press in Germany leading to the Protestant Reformation.  I keep waiting for digital communication to lead to significant social shifts.  The Sanders campaign may be what I have been looking for.

Even so, I look at the disaster that is the neocon / neoliberal loonie Hillary Clinton and feel genuine despair.  How could it come to this?  It wouldn't be so bad if there were plenty of time to solve the big problems rolling towards us with the certainty of gravity and arithmetic.  But there isn't.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Upgrading lighting

There is no easier or better way to upgrade one's energy efficiency than by swapping out light bulbs.  That doesn't mean it's easy because the whole lighting market has been a moving target for several years.  It has been confusing enough so that there has been political blowback against energy-efficient bulbs.  I know someone who bought a whole big box of tungsten incandescent bulbs because he thought the energy efficiency standards were going to fail.  Our resident political nutcase, Michele Bachmann, even made her war on energy-efficient lighting part of her run for the presidency.

And hard as it is for me to admit it, Bachmann had a point.  The interim "solution" was the compact fluorescent bulbs (the curly-tails).  They were generally affordable but had significant problems shared with the rest of fluorescent bulbs—mostly they contained mercury.  But the other big problem was that they had an unpleasant color—fluorescent bulbs start out green.  In order to make them look like incandescent lights (which everyone loves because they resemble fire light) an orange-yellow coloring had to be added.  Since the original green was never fully covered, the resulting light could make skin look jaundiced and most folks object to looking like they may be suffering from liver disease.

The real solution was the Light Emitting Diode (LED).  These utterly clever devices were astonishingly energy efficient.  But in the early versions, they didn't put out a lot of light and were EX-PEN-SIVE.  The first bulb to replace a 40 watt incandescent I saw at Home Depot about eight years ago cost $40.  Now there were calculations that in 10 years or so, you could pay for one of these with electrical savings but $40 was still too much sticker shock for me.  And seriously, this so-called 40 watt replacement only put out about 80% the light of a $1 tungsten bulb.

Two years ago, I went shopping for replacements for the 50 watt GU-10 halogen bulbs in some track lighting.  There were  LED replacements at the local big-box building supply but they still wanted $25.  I was able to find some on Amazon for less than $7 so that's what I bought.  The LED replacement uses 6 watts.

A month ago, we decided to finally strip some truly ugly wallpaper off the dining room wall and paint.  My SO had purchased a lovely George Nelson bubble lamp about three years ago to replace an ugly brass chandelier, but she has been sick and so this project sank to the very bottom of our to-do list.  But one morning I heard her cursing at the wall paper steamer so I knew the project was back on.  And I was going to have to make some decisions about installing this wonderful light fixture.

The instructions said the fixture could accommodate up to a 150 watt incandescent.  While LEDs have come down considerably in price, there was still really nothing that big and even two 75 watt lamps would cost about $80.  However, the 60 watt replacements are now running in the $3-5 range—the more expensive ones are dimmable.   So I chose to put two 60s (9.5 watts) in the bubble knowing that this was already a lot of light.  The other choice was color.  The replacement for incandescent bulbs are usually listed at 2700°.  And unlike the curly tails, they really are 2700°.  But there are also many LEDs at 3000° and it is a color I really like.  It is close enough to the old tungsten color but it is just enough more "white-bright" to make reading easier and food look better.

About those dimmers.  In the old incandescent days, a dimmer merely changed the amount of electricity flowing to the bulb.  With LEDs, the dimmer must control a diode.  The bad news is if you want to control your light levels, you must replace that too ($25).  The good news, in my humble opinion, is that with an LED, the light output changes but the color does not.  I find this cool beyond words.  But apparently, not everyone agrees because there are now LEDs that DO change color as they are dimmed.  In fact, I saw one LED that allowed you to dial up the color from candlelight (2100°) to high noon sunlight (6200°) with an app on your smartphone.

So the lessons I learned about the brave new world of LEDs include:

1) The most common bulbs are dirt cheap already.  These include 40 and 60 watt replacements and the recessed can lighting bulbs.

2) The great prices can be had at Costco, IKEA, and Amazon (and probably others.)  My local big box store has a brand new LED section with prices as low as IKEA.  Price is no longer an excuse to not buy these truly amazing bulbs.

3) There are reasons for installing LEDs beyond costs.  Best example might be replacing tube fluorescents.  The replacement for a 40 watt tube currently costs around $12.  The difference in efficiency is small compared to swapping out an incandescent—the LED requires 21 watts so the energy saving is less than 1/2.  But I know someone who works under those tubes and recently they were replaced by LEDs.  Instant on.  No flickering (no headaches).  No hum.  No mercury.  Great color.  Changing the light source has changed his work environment.

So here it is—our new dining room fixture.  Designed in 1952—it became an icon of Modernism.  It has been described as a paper lantern crossed with a flying saucer.  The amazing exterior is a plastic once used to mothball Liberty ships.  And I am willing to bet that this classic has never looked better than with LEDs providing the light.  We are extremely pleased with the outcome.  I had a blast learning the possibilities of this new world of lighting.  And when I get done converting the house to LEDs, we will use less than 20% of the electricity of the old lights.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The war on the producer classes

My personal discovery that "liberals' were grossly intolerant of working people came as quite a shock.  One of the characteristics of a rural Corn Belt upbringing was knowing men who took great pride in being good with tools.  Even people who could afford to hire out such work (construction, machinery repair, etc.) usually had gone through a period when they had actually worked with their own hands.  My grandfather could fix almost anything and firmly believed that there was only one truly virtuous occupation—farming.  He made allowances for clergy so as to to include my father but I am pretty certain that exception was only made because my father had grown up on a working farm.  I can honestly say that I never heard anyone disparage productive work until I went off to the University where I discovered there were plenty of people who treated working people with utter contempt.

My favorite story came one bitterly cold winter night when I took a shortcut across a parking lot where I discovered two guys trying to jump-start a car.  They were doing it all wrong to the point where they were about to blow up a lead-acid battery.  I straightened out their jump and a few minutes later, the dead car had returned to life.  They seemed quite appreciative until one recognized me as one his students.  How could I possibly be a serious student if I was so damn working-class?  He literally stared at me.  I should have let those two wreck their cars and blow sulfuric acid all over their contemptuous mugs.

No long after, I discovered a neighbor in the dorm who was extolling the virtue of the SDS.  These geniuses taught the working people were no longer the vanguard of the revolution but that "youth" was now a class.  I thought he was crazy / joking but nooooo, I would so discover that the Democratic Party was about to abandon its labor roots.  45 years later, and my party still hasn't enacted a decent health-care system but we have beaten every social issue into advanced boredom.

But listening to the Yuppie Scum "liberals" who are trying to sell us a women with severe right-wing tendencies as a "progressive" has brought out that old anti-worker animus.  Kilpatrick does a good job below of describing the class warfare that has raged within the Democratic Party for over a generation.

Friday, May 27, 2016

More on diesel emissions cheating

When Volkswagen got caught using cheating software for their TDI line of diesels, I suspected that they were a LONG way from being alone.  Part of the reason stems from a lecture I got in 1973 from a transportation-technology instructor I had as part of my city planning sequence.  The professor was from the mechanical engineering department over at the Institute of Technology.  Keep in mind this was the University of Minnesota and not some car-state school like U Michigan or Perdue.  Even so, I am pretty sure he had his facts straight.  And the point he was making that day was it was going to be impossible to make diesel engines both clean and super energy-efficient.  He wrote "Nitrous Oxide" in big letters across the top of the chalk board to ensure we understood the important problem area.  He argued that regulators—especially at the California Air Resources Board—were about to enact regulations that were physically impossible to meet.

I did not want to believe him.  I wanted to believe that predicting something was impossible was not an especially valid tactic in any area dominated by professional inventors.  Proving skeptics wrong was pretty much the major thrust of the 20th century.  But now that I have passed my 66th birthday, I have discovered that there are indeed many things that ARE physically impossible, and that there are valid ways of knowing what they are.  And no, George Jetson's flying car that folded up into a briefcase light enough to be carried by an obvious wimp was never going to be built no matter how much development money was thrown at the project.

So I have come to agree with my old prof.  It looks like there really was no way to make a decent diesel engine that met those flight-of-fancy regulations that left him sputtering.  Below, we have a list of the strategies employed by various automakers in the pursuit of something that really WAS physically impossible.