Quotes: Navalny in Court

“No matter how much [Putin] tries to pose as a geopolitician, his main resentment toward me is that he will go down in history as a poisoner. There was Alexander the Liberator and Yaroslav the Wise. Now we’ll have Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants. The police are guarding me and half of Moscow is cordoned off because we have shown that he is demanding to steal underwear from opponents and smear them with chemical weapons.”

Closing remarks from Alexi Navalny, from rolling Moscow Times coverage of the court session in Moscow underway now.

Naypyidaw Aerobics

2-1/2 Human Problems

A chilly, gray, overcast Saturday in January in Georgia, USA. We never really descend into the depths of a prolonged, dark winter here in Georgia, and on the morning rounds with our dogs this morning I heard birdsong. It won’t be long here, say, six weeks, until the seasons begin to change.

I remember thinking last spring, as the virus began to close our worlds around us, that the rest of the natural world went on as ever, that the pandemic was a strictly human problem. May we all begin to rejoin the rest of the natural world now, a year on.

And speaking of human problems, while I have you: I’ve encountered some items over morning coffee I really must share. The first two things are about Trump Administration personnel:

Thing #1: Nobody will be more delighted to see Secretary of State Mike Pompeo go than … everybody in the rest of the world. A Google search took half a second to return five million confirmations:

Thing #2: The President’s little trick of using “Acting” cabinet heads to avoid confirmation by the Senate resulted in acting secretaries like Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller. Here, an excerpt from a press gaggle on 14 January. Ladies and gentlemen, the Trump Department of Defense at work:


Read the whole thing here.

And Thing number 2-1/2, not deserving of a full number of its own, sums up of the general gravitas and august nature of the outgoing regime. It’s a headline in this morning’s Washington Post:

Underwhelming Parler

There is a Finnish word, sinisilmäinen, which means blue-eyed, and translates figuratively as “naive.” I think many of us whom “patriots” would deride as cosmopolitan citizens-of-nowhere are probably sinisilmäinen when it comes to the workings of the more radical Trump-supporting fringes of the internet. I know I certainly am. 

So learning of the imminent demise of the social media site Parler over the weekend, I pseudonymously set up an account to take a spin around. What I found was disappointing. 

I don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s not filled with seditious stuff, or if it is I wasn’t looking in the right place. I just ran through a few obvious hash tags like #Trump and #maga. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of original content; many posts seem to be retweeted (they call called a retweet an ‘echo’) a lot. Mostly, parler seems seemed to be populated by a bunch of paranoid nuts. I gotta say, if people believe all the stuff they read there, it’s no wonder they are paranoid, because if your life is was on parler, your world is coming apart. Here are several posts I found for you:

• Obama Detained at Airport Attempting to Leave Country

• FBI Raids Chuck Schumer’s Home, Finds Explicit Epstein Tapes

• Pelosi Kicked Out of D.C Restaurant for ‘Drunken and Disorderly Conduct’

• Cancel your #Amazon account NOW. Tomorrow will be too late. God bless America🇺🇸

• There’s a reason Democrats and Demons start with the same three letters. God almighty is going to fix this country and use Trump as his weapon to do it!

• Three States Pull CNN’s Broadcasting License, ‘They Fail to be Truthful’

• The fact is President Trump did not make any calls for violence.. Subscribe to the Mark Levin podcast and listen here.

• NEW VIDEO: Antifa Hands Out Weapons from Bag During Storming of US Capitol

• This goes past the 6th! Trust in the Lord our God!

• BE PREPARED FOR AN IMMINENT BLACKOUT. President Trump will be using be using emergency broadcast system. We have a man of courage & faith at the helm. He will be at the helm for 4 more years per the RULE OF LAW. Pray for President, our country

• Apple is going to do an update on all phones to shut off the emergency broadcast system. This is Nazi Germany 1938

• DOJ Orders Raid On Obama Compound After Massive Fraud Found In Audit

• Blackout right now at the Vatican in #Rome , #Italy and in all major #Pakistan cities

• Q was right about everything. They are being wiped from the internet now. I wish I had listened more.

And just remember, this is all Michelle Obama’s fault:

See what I mean? Disappointing. And sad.

 

Belarus Today

The pace of events quickens as an air of crisis surrounds President Lukashenka, who was roundly booed while speaking in public yesterday, a previously unthinkable moment that recalls the final days of Nikolai Ceaucescu in Romania.

For English speakers, Meduza has opened a live blog this morning. The Moscow Times has a dedicated section, Unrest in Belarus. RFERL has one too, under the banner Crisis in Belarus. And the Baltic Times has a range of articles.

If you can speak Russian, try tut.by Belarusian portal, or if not, Google can roughly translate it for you.

Virus Diary VI

As long as we’re shut in with time on our hands, here is another installment of a sort of rolling diary to consider consequences of the virus. It’s true that with a virus that spreads exponentially, each day’s events seem like a week’s worth. In the knowledge that all this may be overtaken by events next week, here are some observations today. Please add your thoughts.

Today is 7 April, 2020:

• It is remarkable how self-evident it is that the entire intellectual framework that ran our economic world until last month was wrong.

We’ve all seen the photos, clear waters instead of used condoms in Venetian canals and so on. The virus shakes politicians by the shoulders considerably more starkly than the scolding teenaged Swede (bless her just the same). Perhaps the virus can help the planet self-correct, if just a bit. Or at least incrementally slow its death march.

• German experts contemplate April under the coronavirus. The view from Germany.

Let old and sick people out of prison if they’re not under the death penalty. For if we don’t, perhaps by our lack of action, we are imposing that penalty.

• Branko Milanovik is surely right about this, in Foreign Affairs:

“The longer the crisis lasts, and the longer obstacles to the free flow of people, goods, and capital are in place, the more that state of affairs will come to seem normal. Special interests will form to sustain it, and the continuing fear of another epidemic may motivate calls for national self-sufficiency.”

• Tomas Sedlacek says we might as well try to take advantage of a situation we can’t do much about anyway. There are advantages to disadvantages. Like, in his case, Prague without the tourists.

• Winners: hands, and dogs. Neither has ever had as much attention.

What do you think?

Here are the firstsecondthird, fourth and fifth Virus Diary installments.

Take care and wash your hands.

Virus Diary V

As long as we’re shut in with time on our hands, here is another installment of a sort of rolling diary to consider consequences of the virus. It’s true that with a virus that spreads exponentially, each day’s events seem like a week’s worth. Here are some observations. Please add your thoughts.

Today is Sunday, 29 March, 2020:

• Feudalism redux. Literally: Carnegie Moscow Center reports that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has

“tasked each of the oligarchs with overseeing a specific region where they have assets: Rinat Akhmetov will be responsible for the Donbas and western Ukraine, Kolomoisky for Zaporizhia, Victor Pinchuk for Dnipropetrovsk, and so on.”

Joel Kotkin weighs the prospects of neo-feudalism in The Coming Age of Dispersion at Quilette.

• Digital Congress. Not a prediction, just part of a lengthening wish list. As Ethan Zuckerman writes,

“this is a great time for congresspeople to return to their districts and start the process of virtual legislating—permanently. Not only is this move medically necessary at the moment, but it has ancillary benefits. Lawmakers will be closer to the voters they represent and more likely to be sensitive to local perspectives and issues. A virtual Congress is harder to lobby, as the endless parties and receptions that lobbyists throw in Washington will be harder to replicate across the whole nation. Party conformity also might loosen with representatives remembering local loyalties over party ties.”

• In Virus Diary II I suggested

Shorter, stronger supply chains on the other side of this? This looks like a safe bet.”

To expand a bit, the idea I was after was redundancy. We don’t need tariffs and trade barriers for spiteful reasons of base nationalism, but in case other countries place restrictions on supply chains, restrict exports, shut down ports and such, as we are seeing today.

•••••

And a local note:

Fannin County, Georgia is around 100 miles north of Atlanta in the southern Appalachian mountains. My wife and I own property in adjoining Union County. Indeed, our last redoubt would be a cabin there, and to reach it we’d want (but not have) to drive through Fannin County.

Whether or not officials in Fannin County can prohibit people from using their own properties, it looks like they’re game to try. It’s medieval, pulling up the drawbridge, the stuff of a dozen apocalypse tales. And not surprising.

Seems to me it represents a fundamental fracture in the US’s secular worship of property and wealth. Attempting to deny the right to use someone’s property is kind of shocking in a US context, possibly appropriate, but as I say, not surprising. What is surprising is how quickly the thin veneer of civilization begins to come off.

What do you think?

Here are the firstsecondthird and fourth Virus Diary installments.

Take care and wash your hands.

 

 

Virus Diary III

As long as we’re shut in with time on our hands, here is another installment of a sort of rolling diary to consider consequences of the virus. It’s true that with a virus that spreads exponentially, each day’s events seem like a week’s worth. Things we speculated a week ago now look naïve. Still.

Today is the first day of Monday, 23 March, 2020:

• Everything about the novel coronavirus is novel. Branko Milanovic points out that here we have a problem of both supply and demand. Expanding on a thought in Virus Diary II, he injects time as a variable. “If national governments can control or overcome the current crisis within the next six months or a year, the world would likely return to the path of globalization….” But if not, not.

“The longer the crisis lasts, and the longer obstacles to the free flow of people, goods, and capital are in place, the more that state of affairs will come to seem normal. Special interests will form to sustain it….”

• If nature is exacting revenge for human-induced climate change, as some suggest, it’s doing it in an odd way, chasing people away from public transportation.

• Still, the virus by all rights ought to boost trust in experts, a reasonable and modest enough idea that UK politician Michael Gove, our American president and a cadre of Republicans have methodically batted at for years. Benefit: Climate Change.

• Christine Wilkie writes that “the ‘us vs. them’ approach to Washington and the federal government, on which the president has built his political brand” in fact, his entire public persona is gone. Entirely undermined.

I think if we’re all in this together, down the road a few beneficial changes will be hard to deny, like the prohibition of tax buy backs. Our pro-business president supports the idea, and I’m guessing even the most pro-business congresspeople can be shamed into it. More medium-term goal: worker representation in the boardroom. Over the horizon: replacing some of the more craven aspects of healthcare for profit with real, straight-up needs-based care.

• For now an us vs. them frontier sentiment bubbles to the top. In Scotland, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford MP warns people off heading to Scotland to self-isolate:

“I urge everyone to do the right thing; follow the government advice and please do not travel here. If these warnings are not heeded and people need to be stopped from travelling, then I am afraid that is what will have to happen. Those in camper vans please go home!”

• We’re all Social Democrats now. For the moment. Today,

“France’s relatively generous welfare state and the state’s broad authority to enact pressure on employers appear far more like advantages than deficiencies — as signs of modernity, not outdatedness.”

Meanwhile,

“’For the first time in our history, the government is going to step in and pay people’s wages,’” the British chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak,

said last week.

• When the world emerges from the rubble, two books for guidance: 1946, The Making of the Modern World by Victor Sebestyen and Year Zero by Ian Buruma.

• One more thing: everybody’s hair is going to get a lot longer. And there will be more beards.

Please share your thoughts, and take care.

 

Here are the first and second Virus Diary installments.

Virus Diary II

As long as we’re shut in with time on our hands, let’s have a go at a sort of rolling diary to consider consequences of the virus. Here’s hoping most of the crazier predictions out there will look alarmist in retrospect. We’ll see what holds up over time.

Today is the first day of spring, 19 March, 2020:

• At this point, I’d say all bets are off on whether the U.S. election happens as scheduled. Whether or not it would be legal won’t stop speculation.

• It’s crazy the IOC hasn’t yet cancelled the Olympics. That shouldn’t be far away.

Shorter, stronger supply chains on the other side of this? This looks like a safe bet.

• Walking in the park today, everybody giving everybody else ample personal space, it was clear it will take considerable time to unlearn social distancing. Does the virus hasten the Shut-In Economy?

• The ruble is the third-worst performing currency among emerging markets this month, losing about 10% against the dollar. The Brent oil price fell below $26 per barrel for the first time since 2003. Rumblings about Putin’s survival. At the very least Russia and Saudi Arabia picked the exactly wrong time for an oil price war.

• Radical decoupling of the U.S. and Chinese economies? Andrew Michta recommends it, piquantly:

“We must acknowledge our own complicity in what is now unfolding. The belief that globalization, through the radical centralization of market networks, was the unavoidable path forward has been exposed as a grave, near-delusional miscalculation. The offshoring by corporations of supply chains to China has not only eviscerated communities that were previously reliant on manufacturing jobs, but has also brought with it an unprecedented level of vulnerability and fragility to our economies. The populist revolts that have wracked Western democracies for the past several years are in part rooted in the pain that these dislocations have caused.”

• No prediction here, but a big break with the past. Judah Grunstein writes:

“for the first time in memory when it comes to a global crisis, the U.S. will not be coming to the rescue. From the beginning of the outbreak, Washington has been several steps behind state and local governments across the U.S. that usually depend on the federal government for guidance and leadership in crisis response efforts. And it has made no effort at all to coordinate responses among national governments around the world, which have grown accustomed to the most powerful and capable country on earth leading the way in times like these.”

It’s what Ian Bremmer calls the unwinding of the American order.

Please share your thoughts.

(Here is Virus Diary I, from two days ago.)

Quotes: Consequences

“Conservatives have spent years trying to cut funds for basic science and research, lamenting government seed money for nearly every budding technology and then hoping for the best. In the weeks ahead, it’s not some fiery, anti-Washington populist with an XM radio gig who is going to save folks’ lives; it is more likely to be someone who has been studying this stuff for decades, almost certainly at some point with federal help or outright patronage.”

Stuart Stevens in The Washington Post