02 August 2015

Link round-up for 2 August 2015

What would happen to a submarine on Jupiter?

Behold the terror of the bike paths.

Mock Paper Scissors fisks a fundie call-to-arms.

How hot would Disney characters be if they were real people?

Roswell NM is the site of a curious culture war.

Music can give you the shivers.

Which god is cooler?

Skye is a spectacular island (found via GoodShit).

Michael Moorcock is as provocative as ever (found via Mendip).

"Fiercely ideological" people please read this.  Political correctness will suffocate our ability to discuss things if we let it.

Bernie Sanders is coming to Portland after wowing the crowds in Dallas.  His view on immigration is more nuanced than the party line.  He won't be the nominee, but he understands the most important thing -- don't do anything that might help elect a Republican.  I hope he's seriously considered for the VP spot.  In the meantime, take this to heart.

This in-depth look at Trump's history of bankruptcies suggests he's too much of a risk-taker to be a national leader.  The experience of this Scottish farmer (found via Shaw Kenawe) and this Indian tribe shows how ruthless he can be.  Booman Tribune sees the Trump phenomenon as a product of the right wing's self-deception, but so far they're just doubling down on the nutty.  Sixteen analysts try to predict how the story ends.

Things look promising for legal marijuana in Michigan.  Let's hope they take heart from Washington state's experience.  And don't let the bad guys alarm you about the edibles.

Conservatives haven't adjusted to how the internet has changed mass communication.

Yes, our country has a terrible problem.  (A Burmese python???) Compare with Britain.

A brutal religious terrorist attack scars Jerusalem.

Germany can now get as much as 78% of its electricity from renewables.

A mostly-female vigilante hacker group targets ISIS.

Krugman explains what's up with the Chinese stock market.

New Zealand's experience shows that legalizing prostitution works.

Chester, England, has a curious architectural feature.

Trump's handling of Sam Nunberg probably doesn't mean he's acting more responsibly.

Despite a video smear campaign, Americans still support Planned Parenthood (found via Fair and Unbalanced, which has a debate on the videos).  But Erick Erickson is fired up for a doomed crusade.

Scott Walker may seem bland, but in some ways he's the worst of the Republican candidates.

People in swing states want action on global warming.  They won't get it from Trump, but these major corporations are taking up the fight.

If you're considering an abortion, stay the hell out of Alabama.

Americans support the nuclear deal with Iran, 54% to 38%.

A proposed moral dilemma for liberals turns out not to be much of one.

The rage right has a new epithet for conservatives who aren't hard-line enough (from commenter AWJ). Their fury at Obama is a projection of their own totalitarianism.

In case anyone was wondering, Pat Robertson is still nuts.

Arguing with right-wingers is generally a waste of time.

A Congressman finds his donations drying up after making anti-gay remarks (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Georgia conservatards dump a big steaming pile of heritage on a kid's birthday party.

A Missouri state rep is suing to keep his daughters from getting birth control even though two of them are adults.

Sport hunting is basically a coward's game.  Cecil the lion was just the latest in a long line of victims of the Death Dentist.  Then of course there's this.

Religion just gets more ridiculous.

The Paultard cult isn't standing with Rand.

How cool does neverending sex sound?

Ryan Anderson's new anti-gay-marriage book doesn't make the case.

"Christian nation" bullshit is dividing Liberia.

31 July 2015

Video of the day -- Obama on malignant traditionalism


Found via Horizons.  Tough truth, clearly and forcefully spoken.

29 July 2015

Free speech, take 2

A little over a year ago I wrote this post about F169 BBS, a forum dedicated to near-absolute free speech.  Four months later, despite an abundance of interesting stuff on the site, I had to judge the experiment a failure.  It turns out that when a forum allows absolutely anything, it gets taken over by lunatic-fringe elements like neo-Nazis and conspiracy-theory cranks, and stays taken over, because most people who don't fit into those categories get run off by the constant heckling and general idiocy.

Well, forum founder "Hans" has decided to try a new experiment -- a new forum called FastChatters which has a similar philosophy except that it's heavily moderated to exclude "hate speech", including racism, as the intro post explains.  Hopefully this should allow for a broader range of weird and wacky content without the place degenerating into a toxic waste dump for the worst sorts of bigots.

I think it's important to encourage experiments like this.  We can't talk about serious stuff all the time, and I have a soft spot for things offbeat, colorful, trivial, and a tad daring, as this blog occasionally shows (though not often enough).  So I'm glad that "Hans" (reincarnated as "Spud" on the new BBS) is giving it another try.  I'm looking forward to finding more of that weird and wacky stuff there, without having to slog through page after page of repetitious rants about imaginary Jewish conspiracies to get to it.

26 July 2015

The adventures of Donald Trump

In the run-up to Presidential election years, you can usually count on the Republicans doing something to screw themselves over.  You never know in advance what it will be, but they'll do something, or more likely an escalating succession of somethings.

In the current campaign, of course, it started with their monstrous regiment of candidates, turning the usual clown car into a clown bus.  But that was just a prelude to their involuntary re-enactment of Robert Louis Stevenson's under-appreciated little literary gem, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"Respectable" Republicans like to paint Donald Trump as a buffoon, an un-serious figure who has come out of nowhere and inexplicably attached himself to their party to its detriment.  In fact, he's the dark side they've been cultivating for decades under a veneer of decency -- he's the Republican id, made flesh and set loose upon the world.  And like Dr. Jekyll, they're finding that they can't avoid the blowback from their alter ego's increasingly erratic and repulsive behavior.  If there's one thing Trump knows how to do, it's hog the limelight.  The other candidates have been elbowed off the stage.  Trump is sucking up all the oxygen the rest of the flaming nutballs need to keep going.

Since the great re-alignment -- of the 1960s when segregationist Southern whites fled the Democratic party and joined the Republican coalition, and the 1970s when the party made its fateful alliance with Christian fundamentalists surging into politics out of fury and alarm over the sexual revolution and the nascent gay movement -- the Republicans have been the party of those who resisted any progress in the rights of those who were traditionally kept down.  Over time that element has become the core of the party.  Republicans are instinctively, reactively hostile to every advance of gay rights, to black anger and protests at police violence, to women's access to abortion and even contraception, to any formal recognition of the equality of non-Christians, and on and on.

But there's always been that veneer of respectability.  Minority vote suppression was whitewashed as fighting "vote fraud", a problem whose salience was proclaimed in the face of lack of evidence.  Opposing gay marriage was couched as "defending traditional marriage".  Anti-gay discrimination has become "religious freedom".  Et cetera.

The problem is that the base is exasperated with that kind of subtlety.  They're waving their torches and pitchforks and looking for a castle to storm.  They're in no mood for nuance.

Enter The Donald, a man whose background is not in politics but in entertainment -- casinos, beauty pageants, and the like.  He's not offering serious policy prescriptions (it's said that his books do, but these people don't read books).  He's offering Howard Beale and Rick Santelli, primal screams of frustration that express and legitimize the base's inchoate rage in place of solutions.  Wall off the border and make Mexico pay for it!  Bomb ISIS's oil fields!  These aren't solutions and show no understanding of the problems, but the base doesn't care.  That's not what Trump is about.  He's Palin with testosterone.  He's ditching the veneer of respectability and validating their temper tantrums.

And for that, they not only love him but will forgive him almost anything.  If serious Republicans grumble that Trump in the past has donated to Democrats, expressed pro-choice views on abortion, and otherwise shown signs of not being a pure conservative, the base doesn't know or care.  If they denounce him for attacking moderate Republicans, the base cheers him on.  Any reader of rage-right sites like RedState knows that the base is even angrier at "squishy" moderate "RINO" Republicans than it is at liberals.

After Trump insulted John McCain (and by extension prisoners of war in general), some thought he was finished, but a new poll after that incident shows his support among Republicans increasing to 28%, twice as high as that of the next-highest candidate, the hapless Jeb Bush.  More clearly than ever before, he's the front-runner.

If insulting less-extremist Republicans works for Trump, will it work for others?  Ted Cruz has been giving it a try, and it seems to be getting him brownie points with the rage crowd.  Just imagine what the party will end up like if this really catches on.

The first candidate debate is less than two weeks away, and as front-runner by a big and growing margin, Trump can hardly be excluded.  Can you envisage guys like Jeb, Walker, and Rubio trying to "debate" a screeching, poo-flinging orangutan (who is actually smarter than they are)?  Whoever wins, it's going to make a mess, and likely a hugely entertaining one.

Another source of Trump's support is his defiance of "the media" and "political correctness", which the base blames for conservatism's succession of defeats in the culture wars.  He doesn't back down or apologize when he's called out on saying outrageous things.  After the respected Des Moines Register vigorously denounced him, he simply banned the paper from covering his events.  Most politicians know they can't afford to alienate too many people, but Trump's ego won't let him back down and his admirers think he's the one guy who's finally got the guts to speak truth to power.

They're wrong, of course, and so is he.  If he somehow actually won the Republican nomination for President, he'd lose to Hillary by a bigger margin than any other Republican.  He almost certainly won't win the nomination -- Jeb is the establishment's candidate, and the establishment usually gets what it wants.  But there's a problem.  If a spurned Trump ran as a third candidate, he'd almost certainly bleed off enough of the knuckle-dragger vote to doom any chance of the real Republican nominee winning.  Last week Trump explicitly promised not to do that, then just two days later explicitly threatened that he would do it if the establishment doesn't treat him "fairly", however he judges that.

He's got the party establishment over a barrel.  They have no leverage over a man who really doesn't care what anyone thinks and has so much money of his own that he could pay for a third-candidate run without being beholden to donors.

I think he will do it.  He's made so much money in business that that pursuit has probably started to pall somewhat -- when you've got ten billion, how much difference does another few billion make to your life, really?  He's 69 years old and I suspect he yearns to try an even bigger adventure while he's still vigorous enough to pull it off and enjoy it.  To be a mere also-ran for the Republican nomination, especially after leading the pack?  I can't believe his ego would be content to let it all end like that.  A third-candidate run would give him another year at the center of attention and controversy, and make him a key figure in the politics of the mightiest nation on Earth.  He wouldn't win, but third candidates never do -- no disgrace there, and I doubt the responsibility and hard work of actually being President appeals to him anyway.  He'd trash the Republican party in the process, but he clearly thinks it needs a good hard shaking-up (and a lot of Republicans seem to agree).  He'd help elect Hillary, but she'd almost certainly win even without him, and they're personal friends (she was an invited guest at his most recent wedding).  He'd win himself a place in the history books at least as prominent as Ross Perot.  It's the kind of bang that The Donald, in his own mind, deserves to go out with.

And the Republicans?  This is the end of the road they set out on when they aligned themselves with Jerry Falwell and the segregationists back in the sixties and seventies.  It should have been foreseeable, even then.  They did this to themselves.

Link round-up for 26 July 2015

Mock Paper Scissors has updated its guide to the Republican candidates.

Packaging is often designed by morons, apparently.

Behold the master race.

With reality like this, who needs fairy tales?

The movie theater experience stinks these days, even if nobody shoots you.   But religious nuts can't even watch TV.

Here's a good overview of the Fermi paradox (my explanation for it is here).

Tim McGaha looks at the end of the beginning.

While we obsess about China, a new economic giant is rising up much closer to us.

A British macular-degeneration victim is the first to receive a new high-tech treatment.

Kaveh Mousavi debunks claims made by opponents of the Iran nuclear deal.  American Jews strongly support the deal despite Netanyahu's bluster.

A specter is haunting Europe -- the specter of Margaret Thatcher.

Bernie Sanders has a strong record, but Barney Frank explains why he's not our candidate for President.  And there's one thing that  could still sink him.

Green Eagle thinks the Republicans are using Trump to "vaccinate" their flock against Sanders.

The Christian Right has a new target for its hatred -- moderate Christians.

Hillary defends Planned Parenthood against right-wing scam-video attacks -- more here.

There are dangers in taking our party too far to the left.

The Catholic Church can't stop bashing people with its taboos even at a funeral (found via Republic of Gilead).

Some right-wingers really want to take us back to the bad old days -- read the comments, notably #58.  Women's reproductive freedom is in the crosshairs too, as the anti-abortion nuts are extremist indeed.

That Oregon bakery that just lost a $135,000 judgment did a lot more than just refuse to bake a cake.  PCTC explains the basic principles that apply.

Three Arkansas counties push ahead with laws protecting gays from discrimination, despite a hostile state environment (found via Republic of Gilead).

Ramona's Voices looks at E L Doctorow, the man who saw through Bush.

Anti-gay activists are dinosaurs who don't realize they're extinct.

There's a word for what Trump is doing.

Saudi comedian Nasser al-Qasabi fights ISIS with humor (found via Horizons).

Human domination of the world began 71,000 years ago with a specific breakthrough in technology.

Religion is still powerful in Afghanistan.

2015 is already a year of record-breaking extreme weather.

24 July 2015

Video of the day -- from red to green


I rather doubt that we'll ever actually do this.  But it's a magnificent vision.

22 July 2015

Quote for the day -- gazing into the abyss (2)

"Now, it’s one thing to say that you don’t know whether to put Trump in your political coverage or your entertainment coverage, but it’s another to admit that you just can’t honestly come to grips with the fact that the modern GOP is this much of a disgrace. The party is supposed to stand for things, some of them broadly considered laudable, others highly contentious. But it doesn’t stand for much anymore beyond being a party of opposition and obstruction that is filled with incredibly angry people who are furious about immigration and despise establishment politicians like John McCain just as much as they loathe elite educational institutions like Harvard. These aren’t rah-rah patriotic Americans because they increasingly fear and hate this country. Science is their enemy, too, which makes them mistrust academics and experts all the more. What they want is vengeance, and the candidate who seems most likely to deliver it is the one they will support.....You want a story? The story is that this party is dangerous and they have a lot of power. Trump doesn’t make them more dangerous. He doesn’t really add anything except a little clarity to the situation."

Booman Tribune

19 July 2015

Link round-up for 19 July 2015

An artist creates a fitting tribute to Donald Trump.

Eat the donut before it eats you (found via Mendip).

Trading in liberty for security is summarized in one simple graphic.

A woman on the ten-dollar bill?  How about this one?

Green Eagle's latest Wingnut Wrapup opens with a faked Hillary photo, and a faked Planned Parenthood video which is currently driving the wingnuts bonkersHere's a response on the video smear, which may just help energize Hillary's secret fund-raising weapon.

Is the 2016 election over before it begins?  This graphic illustrates the relative polling strength of Presidential candidates.

There's an 85-acre area of Copenhagen that has seceded from the European Union, and largely from reality.

Commenters (including me) debate the Iran deal over at Fair and Unbalanced.  Here's a nuclear expert's view (also found via F and U).  Pat Buchanan, of all people, steps forth as a voice of reason, but Ayatollah Khamenei is Iran's version of a Republican.

George Carlin was right -- God always needs money.

Meet history's toughest female pirate (found via Mendip).

Bernie Sanders takes a strong stand (found via Joanne D) against austerity madness in Greece and elsewhere.  London Mayor Boris Johnson eloquently calls on Greece to resist German tyranny.  But on a personal level, Greeks and Germans still manage to get along.  Comrade Misfit has some more.

Here's why the sea level may rise faster than expected.

The Christian Right still doesn't understand what the gay-marriage fight was about.

There are now birth-control options beyond the pill.

More than a century ago, a photography pioneer took these color pictures (found via GoodShit).

Elephants illustrate how, if creationism is true, God must have faked the evidence to make it look like evolution happened.

A Christian rally in Pennsylvania urges people to overcome racial division so we can unite against "fags" -- and cheap hotels.

As a holy man awaits trial on charges of serial rape, key witnesses keep turning up dead.

No, most women who have abortions don't regret it.

Here's what free speech means, and doesn't mean.

Oklahoma plops out a huge, steaming pile of heritage, but others there show decency.

Leaders of Dent county, Missouri, order their flag flown at half-mast to "mourn" the Supreme Court gay marriage ruling, then quickly back down after a backlash from county residents.

A scientist makes the case that aging is a disease.  Germany already has a political party advocating life extension.

Obama has been much too slow at reforming marijuana policy.

Stem cells show promise in treating intractable pain.

Republicans "respond" to Hillary's economics speech.  Jeb Bush is an exciting candidate, but he's clueless about the modern economy and about why Trump is so popular with Republicans. Teh Donald (who's 40 times richer than Romney) says he'll "spend what it takes" to win.  Some think his remarks about McCain have finished him, but he still has his supporters (see comments), and go read this too.

China's regime is trying, in vain, to suppress the sexual revolution.

Insofar as the economy will affect the 2016 election, it will favor Democrats.

Solar energy is getting so cheap that it's easily competitive with fossil fuels.

Ebola is re-emerging in Liberia, though on a small scale.

There are plenty of reasons for progressives to support Hillary.  If that's not enough, consider this.

Encrypted phones are a good thing, not a bad thing.

Patrick Rushing insists he's not racist -- you be the judge.

If you have three quarterbacks, you have no quarterback.

Be a little cautious the first time you try marijuana edibles.

17 July 2015

Quote for the day -- gazing into the abyss

"You're probably afflicted by the same despair: a painfully desperate but hopeless groping for rhetorical precision. How does one find words that convey the illimitable repugnance one feels each time modern conservatism makes itself known? I sense the presence of an abyss, a monstrous darkness, an almost occult vortex of immeasurable ignorance and unthinking malice. It's as though I see the GOP stalking and myself stalking behind, yet when I catch up to it, when I reach the predator, it is but a mist -- a disembodied, ungrippable haze of beastly malevolence and wanton stupidity; a kind of violent blankness."

P M Carpenter

16 July 2015

Images of Pluto


Sorry, couldn't resist (see also Pinku-Sensei, with music added).  Seriously, New Horizons is now sending images like these (click each to enlarge) of a planet which until now was nothing but a blurry dot to us:

Those are mountains, more than two miles high, probably made of ice (discussion here).  In Pluto's extreme cold and low gravity, ice is rigid enough to form such features.

This overview picture was taken just before the closest approach, showing the variety of the terrain:
The relative lack of cratering suggests ongoing geological activity (cratering happens continuously on all planets and moons; if we don't see craters, that means that geology or weather is erasing them as fast as they form).  This was unexpected.  Geological activity on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn is driven by heat caused by tidal forces exerted by the gravity of the nearby giant planet, but Pluto has no such giant planet nearby, no source of tidal forces except its own five moons.

This is Charon, Pluto's largest and closest-in moon:
It too shows a surprising variety of terrain and paucity of craters (discussion here).

And these aren't even the real high-resolution images yet.  New Horizons collected so much data that it will take about 16 months to transmit everything back here.  Updates will continue to be posted on the mission page.

This machine is working perfectly at hundreds of degrees below zero, after nine and a half years of travel, sending us mountains of information about a place thirteen thousand times further away than our Moon -- showing what we as a species can accomplish when we put our minds to it.

If only Galileo, Copernicus, Aristarchus could have lived to see this!

Pluto is named after the Roman god of the underworld, while Charon in Greek mythology was the ferryman who carried the souls of the dead across the river Styx to Hades.  Now that a wealth of newly-discovered surface features on both worlds need naming, we're giving them similarly dark and underworld names from mythology and literature (found via Progressive Erupts).  In the very unlikely event that Pluto is ever colonized, some people will have "Cthulhu" as part of their address.

15 July 2015

Mini-round-up: Greco-Persian edition (updated)

It looks like it will take a while for New Horizons to transmit all its Pluto pictures and data, but in the meantime there's plenty happening on our own planet.

Most important is the nuclear agreement with Iran, which by most accounts should prevent the ayatollahs from getting nuclear weapons, end the economic sanctions that have kept prosperity out of reach for millions of Iranians, and open up more connections between Iran and the rest of the world which will hopefully speed up the erosion of the theocratic hard-liners' power.

Republicans, of course, are taking their usual Groucho Marx approach to anything Obama comes up with.  Sorry, I'd rather rely on the judgment of actual nuclear-proliferation experts than that of doofus politicians who can't even keep track of who's on which side.

Oh, and invoking the Chamberlain "peace for our time" meme to attack any case of a negotiated settlement whatsoever, regardless of details or context, has surely reach the Godwin's Law point by now.

The full text of the agreement is here.  Some other worthwhile links:

BBC:  The key details.

The White House:  The case for the agreement.

Kaveh Mousavi :  What it will mean for Iran.

Booman Tribune:  What it will mean for international relations.

Update:  Politics Plus:  A round-up of reactions.

The other big international story of the moment is the Greek government's capitulation to yet more austerity as the price of a new EU bailout and staying in the euro.  It's not a totally done deal yet -- the Greek Parliament might still reject the agreement as too brutal, and Germany may even reject it as not brutal enough.  Whatever happens, with US media coverage of the situation being dominated by anti-Greek talking points, clichés, and (to be blunt) lies, it's important to keep clear what's really happening:

Paul Krugman:  Whatever you think of Tsipras, the austerity plan is a descent into vindictive madness.  And what the EU calls a "technocrat" sounds remarkably like a US Republican talking economics.

The Guardian:  This raw and brutal display of German power is causing anxiety across Europe.  The IMF warns that a deal is unworkable without more debt relief.

The Obama Diary:  Germany is demanding total humiliation.

Update:  The Greek Parliament has ratified the surrender.  The backlash across Europe has escalated to a boycott of German goods (so far on a small scale, though the ugliness of the German responses shown may change that), and protests by the left within Germany itself.  This last is a promising development since it was protests within the US that eventually reined in some of the worst of US imperialism in the Third World.

This is astonishing.  It took Germany decades of good behavior to rehabilitate itself after the atrocities of Naziism -- and now Merkel and Schäuble have thrown all that away in a matter of weeks.

14 July 2015

The outermost world

As I write this, NASA's New Horizons probe is just a few minutes away from its closest approach to Pluto at 7:49:57 EST, though pictures taken at that time will take several hours to reach Earth.  Already the probe has provided a steady stream of increasingly detailed images of that tiny world which, until now, we knew only as a blurry reddish dot.

About three billion miles away (the distance varies due to the eccentricity of its orbit), Pluto is about thirteen thousand times more distant from us than the Moon is.  It has taken the probe nine and a half years to get there from Earth.

Looking at Pluto's surface features, we're seeing things which (as far as we know) no eye has ever seen before.

The mission page is here; new pictures and information are being posted as they come in.

[Image:  from NASA (obviously).]

12 July 2015

Link round-up for 12 July 2015

Here's how the TSA can tell you might be a terrorist (found via Mendip).

Our country's founders believed in aliens, and they had plenty of support from the ancients.

Betraying its own people, the Greek government has surrendered to the European Union German Empire.  Greece's former Finance Minister assesses the situation, and Nigel Farage has some blunt words on the only way out.  Britain's Labour party, aghast at the brutality on display, is finally turning against the EU.

In this comment thread I try to educate some conservatives on "social issues" -- but they're probably unreachable.

What have the Democrats done for us lately?

God's wrath hasn't been much in evidence (found via Republic of Gilead). And this is very much to the point.

Science is closing in on why memory deteriorates with age -- and how to repair it.

Muslim charities are raising money to help rebuild the black churches burned since the Charleston attack (found vie Progressive Eruptions).

The Christian Right is not only crypto-fascist, it even has its own flag.  It's not doing so well at hanging on to real power, though.

Exxon knew about global warming for decades while still funding denialist propaganda.

It's striking that there's been no mass protest against the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling, although the usual nutcases are pretty honked off about it (found via Republic of Gilead).

Rubio has a plan -- to destroy higher education in the US.

Let the states decide!

Fair and Unbalanced blog has been hosting a lot of debate on gay marriage recently.  Start with this item and its comment thread.

What do the fundies really mean by "old-fashioned"?

At least one South Carolina legislator is a nut.

Yes, it does matter when people don't know anything.

China's stock market is crashing (found via Green Eagle).

The roots of conservative opposition to gay marriage are creepier than you think.

Retirement is pagan, apparently.

It's not just Christianity and Islam -- Shinto fueled the Japanese atrocities of World War II.

The Republican Presidential clown show gets zanier as Trump takes the lead.  He's doubling down on his greatest (so far) gaffe blast of Republican-ness, sending business partners and others stampeding for the exits.  His plan for Iraq is, unsurprisingly, even stupider, and he's openly threatening that if he doesn't get the nomination he'll do a Ross Perot which would certainly torpedo the actual nominee.  But really, he's just turning the Republicans' own philosophy against them.

10 July 2015

The Sanders phenomenon

The MSM and the blogosphere have made much of Bernie Sanders's recent apparent wave of popularity.  I like Sanders a lot myself; he has a long record of bluntly speaking truths that most politicians would avoid or couch in mushy language.  He doesn't shy away from the word "socialist".  Based on my results from this questionnaire, I agree with him on the issues about as much as with Hillary Clinton.  He'd almost certainly make a better President than most mainstream politicians (though I'm not familiar enough with his foreign-policy views to judge), and certainly better than any Republican.

That being said, there are two important points to keep in mind.

1) If Sanders did win the nomination, there's a huge risk of his losing the general election.  Almost every poll of Hillary* vs. any Republican challenger shows her beating them all by margins ranging from comfortable to crushing (here's the RCP average).  Few polls have tested Sanders against possible Republican nominees, but in all those I've seen, he loses.  The very thing that endears him to our own side -- his fire-breathing clarity on the issues -- would make it difficult for him to win in a country still allergic to terms like "socialist" and some of the positions that go with it.  As I explained here (see end of post), Hillary is unique among Democrats in being considered trustworthy on national security -- an issue on which, however unfairly, we badly trail the Republicans.

And the risk of a Republican becoming President is one we dare not take.  It would mean the destruction of everything Obama has achieved -- Obamacare itself, for starters.  Then there's the Supreme Court, whose importance has so recently been made clear.  If Hillary becomes President, eventually Scalia will be replaced by another Sotomayor or Kagan, perhaps even by Obama himself.  If a Republican becomes President, eventually Ruth Bader Ginsburg will  be replaced by.....another Scalia.

2)  Sanders is not, in fact, posing a serious challenge to Hillary to win the nomination.  That may happen in the future (though I doubt it), but it's not happening yet.  The impression that it is happening rests on three things:  his strong polling results in New Hampshire, a straw poll in Wisconsin where he only barely lost to Hillary, and the large crowds he's been drawing while giving speeches around the country.  But New Hampshire is a neighbor of Sanders's Vermont, in a part of the country where states are small; he's practically local there.  Straw polls mean very little; this year major Republican candidates skipped their party's Iowa straw poll, citing its very poor record of predicting the eventual nominee.  As for the crowds he's been drawing, these are largely in places which have a lot of people significantly to the left of national Democrats as a whole, such as college towns.  The liberal blogosphere is excited about him, but the liberal blogosphere, too, is significantly to the left of the rank-and-file base of the party.

The reality of the situation is that among Democrats nationally, Hillary still has a huge lead.  The most recent poll I could find has her at 55% to Sanders's 13% (and Biden's 14%).  Right now the RCP average has her at 62.8% to his 14.3%.  Here's a breakdown of their support among various sub-groups of Democrats (graphic from Jobsanger) -- the lead varies a little between groups, but every group hugely favors Hillary.  This analysis at Horizons is also worth reading.

In reality, I think both of them realize this.  Both have refrained from personal attacks on each other; she'll need his enthusiasts in the general election, and he (wiser, in this, than some of his supporters) doesn't want to risk damaging the eventual nominee and helping to elect a Republican.  As long as things stay that way, Sanders is performing a valuable service by getting explicit socialism out in front of the public in a high-profile, plain-spoken, and appealing way.  He may well contribute to moving the Overton window, giving Hillary as President more freedom of action and paving the way for a more liberal successor.  But it is Hillary that's going to be President, and bloggers who are trashing her now for one reason or another need to know that they are helping only the Republicans.

[*Again, I mean no disrespect to Hillary Clinton by referring to her by her first name.  I simply consider it clearer given the fact that there is another major public figure (Bill Clinton) with the same last name.  Her own campaign often does the same.]

08 July 2015

Οχι!

The people who invented democracy still know how to use it.  The 61%-to-39% "no" vote in Greece's referendum on Sunday was the right choice, and virtually the only possible one.

American impressions of the Greek crisis tend to be dominated by German / northern / creditor talking points.  I explained the real situation in this post back in January, when Tsipras and his Syriza party were originally elected.  The reality is that as a condition for the loans that kept Greece (and other southern countries) afloat, the European Union, which nowadays basically means Germany, has imposed a regime of austerity -- deep spending cuts and a fixation on deficit reduction despite economic contraction (similar to what conservatives have been advocating for the US) -- which made it impossible for the southern economies to recover.  Due to austerity policies, the Greek economy has already shrunk by one-fourth, pensions have been cut by almost half, unemployment has exploded, infant mortality has gone up due to reduced health-care spending, etc., etc., etc.  It's somewhat like lending money to a person but demanding, in return, that he lose his job.

If one assumes that the EU is really an association for mutual benefit, it makes no sense.  But in fact the EU has evolved into a sort of economic colonial empire in which the economic relationships between the ruling center (Germany and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the north) and the "colonies" are rigged to advantage the former at the expense of the latter.  Part of the reason Germany has thrived in recent years is that austerity policies and the common currency have crippled southern countries which, especially in the case of Italy, used to be serious competitors.

(It is, of course, the German government that is doing this.  The average German probably has no more idea what is really going on than the average American understood our own government's economic subjugation of much of Latin America during the Cold War.)

In the latest round of "negotiations", the creditor side has been demanding more of the same.  In electing Tsipras the Greek people were rejecting further austerity, and in the referendum they affirmed this verdict.  The EU needs to stop putting conditions on its loans which make it impossible for Greece to recover or, therefore, to ever pay back the loans.

But it increasingly seems that the EU wants to make an example of Greece to punish it for its rebellion, as a warning to the other "colonies" not to defy the rule of Brussels and Berlin.

It's not clear what will happen next.  The EU might blink and agree to lend money without insane conditions attached.  But this looks unlikely.  The Greeks might blink and agree to submit to more of those insane conditions, continuing on the path to total ruin and perhaps a military or fascist take-over.  More likely, though, neither side will give in far enough, and Greece will end up unable to keep paying its debts, will default, and will have leave the euro currency and possibly the EU itself.

The Greeks are very afraid of that last possibility (which is why this situation has dragged on as long as it has).  In the short term, the effects would be horrific.  The country's credit would be ruined.  Its new separate currency would probably depreciate dramatically, multiplying the relative size of its debt (which would still be denominated in euros).  The psychological impact of being "expelled from Europe" would be crushing.  But in the long run there would be a chance of recovery.  Under the present situation, there's nothing ahead but more and more austerity and impoverishment for ever and ever.

Given the EU's vindictive and sadistic (no, the word is not too strong) stance toward Greece, it's a safe bet that it would actively try to sabotage any Greek recovery after a default and departure from the eurozone.  There are Syriza-like parties of various stripes in Italy, Spain, and even France.  The last thing the EU wants is to let voters in those countries see Greece actually prospering, eventually, after leaving the "empire".

A possible risk is that, if Greece gets too desperate, it might make some kind of deal with Russia.  If Russia bailed Greece out, the price might include leaving NATO and making Greek ports available as bases for the Russian navy.  Russia itself is not in the best economic shape these days, but Putin might well relish the chance to strike such a blow at the West he resents for the economic sanctions it imposed as punishment for the Ukraine invasion.

One can only hope that the US would do as much to help Greece as possible.  This would offend the Germans and be difficult to sell to an American public whose understanding of the problem is hopelessly warped by biased media coverage.  But it would be the right thing to do, and in our own interest.

Further essential reading:

How the media are distorting Americans' understanding of the crisis.

The "no" vote means a chance to stop the bleeding (Krugman).

Argentina's example shows that leaving the euro might not be as bad as the Greeks fear.

Greece is fighting for democracy itself.

There are parallels between Greece's present situation and Mohammad Mosaddegh's struggle for independence and democracy in Iran in 1953.

Update:  Please note in particular this quote from the fourth link above:

Precious little of the bailouts went to Greece; instead they went to the European banks that had recklessly lent in the first place. While Germany’s postwar economic renaissance owed everything to debt relief – including from war-devastated countries such as Greece – Athens was denied the write-offs it desperately needed. As French economist Thomas Piketty points out, "Germany is the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt" [emphasis mine -- Infidel753].