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

Virus Diary

As long as we’re shut in, with time on our hands, let’s have a go at this thing, record our thoughts as they occur, a sort of rolling diary of predictions. Please join in and once we bust outta here, we’ll see how much holds up over time.

Today, St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March, 2020, a few ideas to start:

• The Johnson/Cummings U.K. Tories coopted Labour and Lib Dem anti-austerity (at least as campaign rhetoric) to resounding electoral effect. Democratic candidates Biden and Sanders, in being tentative, leave an opening for President Trump to embrace the Universal Basic Income proposal of Andrew Yang and many others on the left.

• As an unexpected side effect, the virus will hasten the eventual adoption of UBI.

• The virus undermines the commercial real estate market. When it becomes apparent how many more functions can be carried out remotely, companies will wonder why they need all those buildings.

• It’s notable how, so far, only our physical selves are constrained. Our online world continues to flourish.

• Suddenly Amazon acts almost as a utility, prioritizing sales of items for the public good over the discretionary. Probably not a position they’d have chosen.

• This is more of a milepost than 9/11. As time goes on we’ll measure everything as B.C. and A.C. Before Coronavirus and After Coronavirus.

• A strong, skillful domestic response, still a possibility, could arrest American decline.

If you have any thoughts, please contribute.

Update, 18 March: Nice to see Tom Friedman is a CS&W reader, even if he is an idea thief. His column the day after my original post.

A Remarkable Message from the President

Here is a retweet by the president of a remarkable post by Assistant to the President and Director of Social Media Dan Scavino. The very stable genius must have missed history class that day they talked about Nero.

But here’s some good news: turns out he’s a natural on the whole Coronavirus thing: “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability,” the president explained.

UK Election, 12 December, 2019

Early thought on tonight’s UK parliamentary elections: a good night for Biden, Buttigieg & Klobuchar.

Fair to read tonight’s thumping Tory victory as evidence that Labour was too far left of the broader electorate. To the extent that the Brexit vote in 2016 was a harbinger of the election of Donald Trump five months later, that’s an argument in favor of candidates hugging the middle ground in the fight for the Democratic nomination.

Not my personal politics, but it looks like the state of things.

Second: sorry to see Lord Buckethead dead last in Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge & South Ruislip. Next time.

Final note: the only Portillo moment, by 149 votes, turns out to be LDP leader Jo Swinson’s defeat by the Scottish National Party’s candidate.

A potential 2020 story of longer lasting import than the incipient Labour leadership race will be the Scottish independence dance between Johnson and the SNP’s Sturgeon. Bring it on.