US – Princeton Study – Ivy League Researchers Would Like Nothing More Than For You To Blame Government For Your Economic Oligarchy – But It Was Government That Was Protecting Us From It – 21 April 2014

Regarding my hostility to that annoying Princeton America-is-an-oligarchy study…here’s why I’m pissed off at the idea that “science” has proven American institutions are useless.

America _is_ an oligarchy economically. This graph, showing galloping income inequality, demonstrates that. There will always be some variance in income in a just state, but this kind of divide really can only be interpreted as involving the rise of a private power that overwhelms the public interest.

It is not a news flash that this kind of oligarchy exists. It has been around since 1980 (the election of Reagan), and that inequality magnified in scope dramatically after 1992 (the election of Clinton) and even more after 2000 (the election of George W. Bush). You can see that in the jumps on this graph.

However, this graph suggests America is an oligarchy because it has abandoned the public power of government for post-Reagan deregulation and privatisation. The Princeton study, instead, engages in mythmaking about government being the problem, when it is in fact the solution we’ve abandoned. And it does this while presenting itself as neutral “science”. It is no such thing.

Focusing on the income inequality problem is the real solution. Giving people a steady diet of you-can’t-affect-your-government propaganda only gets anti-government zealots like Rand Paul elected…so we can have some more income inequality…and thus even more oligarchy.

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US – I Want To Like Robert Reich – But If He’s Going To Be A Wonk, Could He At Least Be A Strategic Wonk? – 20 April 2014

Okay, okay, is there anyone else who has a problem with the former US Secretary of Labor telling us that the minimum wage should be raised to $15/hr?

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great he’s saying that, and he’s an economist, so it isn’t the comment of a blowhard, but of someone who has to have thought out, for professional reasons, what the effects of raising minimum that high would be on the economy.

But he was the Secretary of Labor, and while in that position, he presided over the moralistic and punitive workfare system, the exportation of the country’s more lucrative jobs under NAFTA and galloping outsourcing. Plus, the Clinton White House – as if kicking Reich once he had been sidelined as Labor Secretary – went on to spurn Ted Kennedy’s sensible proposal to index the minimum wage to inflation because it wanted minimum wage to be useful as a “good campaign issue” – as documented in this Huffington Post article: . Essentially, the Reich record in government doesn’t give one confidence the guy can get things done in the real world.

I don’t really blame Reich for his record – it is common knowledge he was unhappy with his Clintonian overlords and felt he could have accomplished something if given some power to actually do so. But it’s just very convenient to move from being (for whatever reason) a do-nothing Secretary of Labor to being a professional-liberal economist.

It’s Krugman’s Syndrome claiming another victim. The idea that people who have demonstrated no ability in getting progressive legislation enacted have some kind of gravitas in criticising those in elective office currently who are trying to do just that…well, it should be questioned a lot more than it is.

The professional-liberal says, in effect: “Can’t pass $15/hr through the current Congress? What a bunch of wussies! Every shred of evidence suggests we can and we should.” Yeah, that’s true, but what’s the point of saying so if Congress isn’t buying the argument? If there’s a chance to get the US at $10.10, and it’s bungled because people insist on Reich’s $15/hr. figure, I have a problem with that.

You may say that Reich is “plateau bargaining” – deliberately leading with a higher figure in order to ensure negotiators at least get the $10.10 figure. But this is my point – did Robert Reich only learn to plateau bargain recently? Where was that guy back in 1993-1997? Why didn’t he plateau bargain as Clinton’s Secretary of Labor? It might have helped more then.

Mind you, I don’t hate Robert Reich – in fact, I wouldn’t be displeased if he ran for office. But Reich needs to, in my opinion, focus a little less on policy prescriptions – he’s great with those – and more on political strategy. It is political strategy for which, at present, he has no demonstrated capacity, and if he wants to be a political actor, he needs to learn that skill.

In other words, never mind _whether_ we should get $15/hr passed. _How_ do we get $15/hr passed? Any speech he gives which leaves that out, frankly, I’m going to ignore.

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US – Russia – Glenn Greenwald Is Okay With Storming American Kremlins… – 20 April 2014

Okay, this one just makes me giggle.

“On Twitter, Greenwald took a jab at those who would suggest the appearance proves Snowden, who took refuge in Moscow after being charged under the espionage act last June, is a Russian intelligence asset: ‘Snowden should storm the Kremlin, take their surveillance docs & demand to be sent to the US: just like his brave patriotic critics would do,’ Greenwald wrote.”

Um…isn’t that the equivalent of what Snowden _actually did_ in the US? Storming the NSA, taking their surveillance docs and demanding asylum in another country?

So, tell me, Glenn – why _shouldn’t_ we expect that?

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Ukraine – Russia – New Russia? Or Old Geopolitical Disdain? – The Trick Is To Make Western Ukraine So Awesome The “New Russians” Will Want To Be “Old Ukrainians” – 19 April 2014

The idea that the rebellious part of Ukraine is really something that historically has been its own country is increasingly being pitched as a thing in Russia. This country is allegedly called Novorossiya, or New Russia.

Russians have a long history of discounting Ukrainian nationality. A Russian foreign minister in the later tsarist days, Pavel Ignatieff, referred to Ukrainians as “little Russians”. (Decades later, while running for a seat in the Parliament of Canada, his grandson Michael Ignatieff repeated this characterisation to howls of protest from Ukrainian-Canadians in his riding, so I can tell you from some experience that this sort of thing dies hard with Russians, as well as with their Canadian descendants.)

There is a city that goes by the name of Novorossiysk in a nearby part of what is uncontestedly Russian territory today, but not far from the territory being claimed in Ukraine as part of some new Novorossiya. If there were to become some new independent Novorossiya, it would be logical that Novorossiysk were in it. But of course, Novorossiya is only meant to disrupt the Ukrainian state, not the Russian state. No one expects Putin to rah-rah if there is any question of New Russian nationalists splitting off part of Old Mother Russia into an independent New Russia.

There is a certain logic to dredging up New Russia as a nationalistic idea. Certainly in Donetsk oblast, the latest of the purported breakaway regions, the idea is popular. It is also popular in Transnistria, a Moldavian separatist stronghold and de facto independent nation where more of the public does speak Moldavian/Romanian rather than Russian (and many also speak Ukrainian), but which is both fiercely loyal to both the historical legacy of the Soviet Union and to today’s Putinism.

The election data also indicates that it was the “New Russia” oblasts that voted repeatedly and by large margins for Viktor Yanukovych, the now-impeached pro-Russian president. That’s a pretty clear indication of how people in those oblasts see themselves in relation to the Euromaidan, the recent Ukrainian political changes, and to Old Mother Russia.

It’s one thing for Ukrainian nationalists to be critical of the usual Russian disdain for Ukraine’s status as a nation, but it may be another to expect that Ukraine’s central government is likely to win any popularity contests throughout this “New Russia” region.

This being the case, should Ukraine fight this or just let it happen? I’ve made the case that letting it happen might be preferable on “Michael Collins” grounds – that partition is potentially the “freedom to achieve freedom” at some later date for the partitioned territory. But there is one wrinkle that Ireland didn’t have to consider in Ukraine’s current situation. The oblasts with the highest GDP are ones in the “New Russia” area or near it – specifically Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporizha, Poltava and Kharkiv oblasts. If Ukraine ceded those territories either to Russia or an independent New Russia entity without a fight, that means the industrial centres of the country are now no longer part of the country.

It’s unlikely Ukraine will want to see that happen, even if the only way to prevent it is a federalist strategy designed to keep pro-Russian oblasts happily in the Ukrainian family (though independent in economic strategies and trade agreement arrangements).

I still think the arrangement with Europe will be so useful for western Ukraine that outright partition would still be better. It is possible the east has higher GDPs not because they are obviously more productive, but because Yanukovych gave them better opportunities. Western Ukraine might well blossom if freed from eastern political interference.

There are no easy answers for Ukrainians right now, but there are pretty clearly obvious components to the right answers. Any answer that ignores that the “New Russia” oblasts are different is likely to be unrealistic. Likewise, any answer that ignores that Ukraine is a real country with real interests in deepening ties with the European Union is likely to be unrealistic.

A flexible Ukrainian federal state may be an answer, but if it weakens ties between Ukraine and the EU, it will be an unsatisfying one. More likely, a consolidated western Ukrainian state is going to be the answer. That choice may empower a “New Russia” to emerge in eastern Ukraine, but that may be the temporary price of showing the world that Ukraine can make its own decisions, independent of Moscow’s bullying tactics. If that works as I think it should, “New Russia” may move heaven and earth at some later date…to rejoin Ukraine.

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Afghanistan – US – Why Are Americans Still Dealing With Karzai? – If You Don’t Want An Occupation, Don’t Change Your Mind And Ask For One Later – 25 November 2013

The US should do in Afghanistan exactly what it did in 2011 in Iraq…take all of its troops out in a complete disengagement.

It’s not that I think Afghanistan won’t be attacked by the Taliban the minute the US troops leave – in all likelihood they will be. That’s why the US and the Loya Jirga (Afghanistan’s parliament) were trying to make a deal to allow a small contingent of US counterterrorism forces to stay.

The US was trying to negotiate a similar deal in Iraq, as you’ll recall, but the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, was insistent that it was time for US troops to leave completely. Now, as I observed a little while back, al-Maliki is asking the US to send counterterrorism forces because Iraq is now overrun with terrorists.

I pointed out then that demonising Americans and calling their stationing troops an occupation is not okay, particularly if you’re going to turn around two years later and call for those supposed occupiers to come back and defend you against terrorists.

Well, now look at Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai…insisting that he will personally veto this agreement worked out by US negotiators and the Loya Jirga, and presumably because he thinks the US “should bring” Afghanis peace first.

“If there is no peace, then this agreement will bring misfortune to Afghanistan,” he said. “Peace is our precondition. America should bring us peace and then we will sign it.”

This is a particularly loopy thing for Karzai to demand of the Americans, because it was Karzai himself who stormed away from the peace process when the US managed to get the Taliban to the table. Remember this, folks?

The ironic thing is that in June, Karzai walked away from the peace talks not because the US had failed to “bring” peace to the Afghanis, but just the opposite – because the US was meddling in what he felt should be a purely Afghani process.

This is a clear example of why I have been arguing for some time now that the US should not have troops in Afghanistan, and the pullout should have been much earlier rather than on a “schedule” for 2014. Americans are risking the lives of the country’s soldiers to support the government of this guy.

Karzai’s administration is corrupt. It is quite likely he fixed the last presidential elections in Afghanistan. He walks away from peace talks and blames that on the US. Then when US drones target and kill a major Taliban leader, he turns around and blames the US for derailing the peace talks he walked away from. He complains the US dominates the peace process, but then complains that the US won’t “bring” Afghanistan peace, as if it were America’s sole responsibility to accomplish this and Afghanistan’s role only to wait until it is delivered to the door by overseas US Mail.

Get out. Get out and close the door. Nothing good will come with any continued association with the Karzai government. The first rule of Middle Eastern politics has been, for too long, to blame the Americans. Get out, so the Afghani people will finally locate some responsibility in Hamid Karzai’s office instead.

Also, resist any temptation to send those counterterrorism advisors in the future. If Afghanistan needs those (and I think it’s pretty obvious they will), point them towards UN peacekeeping forces. That’s what they’re for. While we’re at it, tell Nouri al-Maliki to use the blue-helmets as well. If they don’t want an occupation, they shouldn’t ask for one.

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Egypt – Let’s Not Do The Time Warp Again – 25 November 2013

This must be what it’s like to be in a time machine and to be transported to sometime before February 2011…

Or it could be present-day Egypt.

I wonder why I’m having such a difficult time telling the difference?

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