Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Peace in Libya?

Peace in Libya?, Econospeak, Barkley Rosser

 On the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprisings that held so much hope at the time but would lead eventually only to one nation, Tunisia where they started, ending up with a democratic government, while others ended up with either authoritarian governments such as Egypt or in ongoing states of internal war, such as Syria, Yemen, and Libya. But now it appears there might be hope for a peaceful, if not necessarily fully democratic, the outcome in Libya.

Since the end of the Qaddafi regime, the nation has been split into eastern and western parts, with a UN-recognized government based in Tripoli in the west at war with a competing regime based in Benghazi in the east. Each of these has had a melange of foreign backers, with those providing the most military aid to each side being Turkey for the Tripoli-based government and Russia for the Benghazi-based one. Not too long ago the Benghazi-based one came close to defeating the Tripoli-based one, until a new surge of military aid and support, including the introduction of mercenary Syrian fighters, helped the Tripoli-based one push back the attempted assault on Tripoli back to a position where the nation is roughly equally divided, although it appears that the Benghazi-based regime controls the majority of the oil-producing zones with the revenue from that accruing to it.

A Curious Form of Sex Addiction

A Curious Form of Sex Addiction, EconoSpeak, Barkley Rosser

 The murderer of 8 people recently in the Atlanta area, of whom 6 were Asian American women, mostly (if not completely) Korean American, has claimed that he did not do it out of any anti-Asian prejudice, much less anti-women prejudice, although apparently only one of those killed was a man.  Rather he claims that he did it to “remove temptation” for himself due to a claimed “sex addiction” he has.  

I note that for at least one of the three massage parlors he hit numerous individuals are strongly denying that any sexual activity ever went on there, which might also be the case at one or both of the others as well. However, there is another rather curious fact that sticks out regarding these murders. Four of them, that is half of them, with these all being of Korean American women, were of the ages respectively of 74, 69, 63, and 51.  I find it hard to believe that a 21 year old white male would seriously think that killing women of those ages would somehow help remove from him temptations to have sex.  But then, what do i know.  I am rather on the older side myself.

Barkley Rosser

The Woman Behind The New Deal

Barkley Rosser, Econospeak, The Woman Behind The New Deal, March 16, 2021

I was long aware that Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, namely Secretary of Labor for Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which position she was one of the two people to serve in their position all the way through his presidency, the other being Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Somehow I never heard that much about her, but an article in yesterday’s WaPo’s Retropolis section, “The woman who helped FDR change America in 100 days” proved a real eye-opener on several fronts.  While some of the previously hidden material had been public since the 2009 bio by Kirsten Downey, which bears the title I have used for this post, it seems to be getting fresh publicity now due to this being Biden’s first 100 days, and some people are comparing him to FDR, which can be questioned, but anyway I have now learned about this important and fascinating woman.

It should not be surprising that FDR’s Secretary of Labor would play an important role in many of the important initiatives, but in fact her influence went well beyond those obvious issues.  Indeed, while largely remaining as out of the scene as she could manage, she was a or the key player in many of the most important parts of the New Deal.  These include Social Security in 1935 and in 1933 the 40 hour week, limits on child labor, and the minimum wage. and from the first 100 days the Civilian Conservation Corps and a major expansion of employment-increasing public works spending. While she was less successful with this, during WW II she was one of the leading people trying to get the administration to allow more Jewish refugees to enter the US. She got in trouble with the HUAC in Congress in 1939 for blocking the deportation of portworker organizer Harry Bridges, who was accused of being a Communist.  

“How The Humanities Building Went Wrong” Or Does Brutalist Architecture Represent Fascist “Institutionalized Tyranny”?

“How The Humanities Building Went Wrong” Or Does Brutalist Architecture Represent Fascist “Institutionalized Tyranny”?

 My freshly arrived Spring 2021 issue of “On Wisconsin,” the alumni magazine of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has an article whose title is the first part of the title above in quotation marks.  The later quotation marks phrase appears in the article, but not the word “fascism.” The article is about a famous but much criticized building on the UW-Madison campus Peter Dorman well knows, long known as the Humanities Building, although renamed the George L. Mosse building in 1999 after the famous history professor of that name who died that year and had give a lot of money to UW, and who, ironically, was not only a refugee from Nazi Germany in the 1930s but would become a famous scholar of fascist culture and its origins.  His name also does not appear in this peculiar article in which the building is always called by its original name, the Humanities building, and until recently it did contains much of both the music and arts schools on campus.  After much criticism over decades, it is now scheduled to be torn down sometime after 2029 and replaced with something else, budgetary considerations depending.

It is indeed considered to be an icon, if flawed and troubled, if the brutalist style of architecture, designed in 1962 by Harry Weese, who would design Washington’s metro stations. By the time it opened on campus in 1969, the year I started grad school thereafter completing undergrad there also, it was already a time when tastes began to change in the midst of anti-war protests and hippies all over the place, with it viewed by some as the article notes as representing “institutionalized tyranny.”  It is large and blocky and concrete and “modern,” with no frills or designs on it, classic modernist brutalism.  Although it turns out that many of the harshest criticisms came because of dysfunctionality arising from budget cuts during its building.  It is horribly energy inefficient, falling apart, leaking toxic chemicals, and numerous other problems.  It is these more than the long-running denunciation of its appearance that is doing it in ultimately.  The article even recognized that it had the potential to be an architecturally great building, especially for those who like that architectural style (as my daughter Sasha does who lives in Madison). I was never all that great of a fan of it, and remembered the nice brick buildings there before it that were in the style of the still-standing University Club.

Is There No Hope for “Muslim Social Democracy”?

Is There No Hope for “Muslim Social Democracy”?

 Probably not I am afraid.  Indeed, this label is a recently cooked up one, to replace an earlier one that used “Islamist” instead of “Muslim.” The group claiming this apparently failing and declining label is the Ennadha Party of Tuinisia, founded in 1981 and still led by al-Ghannouchi, currently  Tunis’s Speaker of the House, although he and his party, which has led Tunisia for the last decade, may be about to be removed from power.

This is the 10th anniversary of the “Arab Spring,” which began a decade ago in Tunisia, widely viewed as the one national “success story” of that pitiable affair. All the others: Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and others, ended up with dictators or endless war.  Tunisia has a democracy! An informal economy merchant was hit up for bribes in the old regime of Ben Ali. He set himself on fire, setting off the whole Arab Spring.

On Golden Idols

On Golden Idols

 IN Exodus it is reported that while Moses spent time on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from Yahweh, the people of Israel down below got tired of waiting for him and so constructed at least one, maybe more than one, as silver is mentioned along with gold, statue to be worshipped, with the golden idol, usually claimed to be of a calf, the most notorious.  When Moses returned with the Commandments he was wroth with anger and denounced them for this perfidy, and Exodus reports that Yahweh destroyed this idol, turning its gold into “dust” or other kinds of small particles depending on the translation, and then a part not usually discussed forced the people who had worshipped this golden idol to drink a liquid containing this dust. Of course one of the first commandments forbade the making of “graven images,” with this golden calf or whatever and any silver idol being clear and prime examples of what was clearly forbidden.

Has Elon Musk Damaged His Portfolio By Buying Bitcoin?

Has Elon Musk Damaged His Portfolio By Buying Bitcoin?

 After tweeting repeatedly for some time about bitcoin and the originally satirical degecoin, both of which have gone up massively in the past year, on Feb. 8 Elon Musk put his money where his mouth had been and had his Tesla EV company buy about $1.5 billion in bitcoin.  The immediate aftermath of this was a substantial surge of the crypto from somewhat over $40,000 to somewhat over $50,000.  This seems to have inspired several other major established corporations and entities to also announce they would be holding bitcoin as part of the asset portfolios, along with renewed discussions of more official cryptocurrencies possibly being issued by various central banks (commercial banks have for some years used XRP for transactions amongst themselves, but somehow it has not increased nearly as much as bitcoin or some of the other top cryptocurrencies for reasons I do not understand).

Anyway, it may be that instead of being a brilliant move that establishes the legitimacy and long term value of bitcoin once and for all, despite the massive amounts of electricity used in the mining of it, way more than for other leading cryptocurrencies, it is not out of the question that this may prove to have been its peak.  Bitcoin has been noticeably sliding in recent days, although it is still just above $50,000, which might prove to be a new floor, given all the corporate backers it seems to have picked up.

Is China Committing Genocide In Xinjiang?

 On the last day it could, the Trump State Department officially declared that the Peoples’ Republic of China is committing “genocide” in Xinjiang Province against the mostly Sunni Muslin Uighr minority, the previously dominant group in the province. New SecState Antony Blinken has publicly stated that he agrees with this judgment.  However, reportedly the State Department is reviewing this decision, as it is doing with many other parts of US foreign policy, including such things thought to be fairly straightforward such as rejoining the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran that Biden ran on rejoining and should. So whether or not this last minute action by Pompeo at State remains official or not is up in the air at the moment.

There is no question that the PRC’s policy towards the Uighurs is simply awful, not remotely defensible.  Ir involves having large numbers of people in reeducation camps as well as lots of torture. This is combined with the more general program of simply having Han people fully dominating the province, which parallels a similar program in Tibet, although somehow currently the central government is not engaging in quite as unpleasant programs regarding the native ethnic Tibetan population as is happening regarding the Uighurs.

Normalizing Foreign Trade Relations

 The Biden admin has not yet made moves to undo elements of Trump’s trade war, and some parts of it may not get undone, perhaps especially some directed at China.  But at least one move towards normalization with the rest of the world has just happened as the Biden admin has agreed to let the individual nominated to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) take office. This is Ngosi Okunjo-Iweala, not only a woman, but a former Finance Minister from Nigeria.  She had previously been blocked by the Trump admin, with Trade rep Robert Lighthizer claiming she had “no experience in trade relatrions at all.” The Trumpers supported a former South Korean trade minister who negotiated a trade agreement with the US in 2018, but others did not do so.  The Trump admin had also blocked appointments of new judges to adjudicate trade disputes at the WTO, a more general move to essentially declare the WTO to be useless and no good in pursuit of an “America First” policy.

Fucking With The Football

That would be the nuclear football, the one that a President of the United States can use to destroy all human life on the planet with by pushing some buttons.  It turns out there is a second one, a backup, one that is kept near the backup President. That would be the Vice President.

So CNN has put out a report that Tyler Cowen has picked up on and put as one of his daily news stories on Marginal Revolution, although barely commented on and not getting much attention on most media. The story in fact sort of does not quite play up how serious it is.  It focused on how people at DOD did not know how serious the situation was, without in fact playing up how serious it was.

The problem is that while there has been a lot of attention paid to how former President Trump continued to tweet negatively about his own VP, Mike Pence, even after hearing that Pence had been evacuated from the Senate chambers with a mob having entered the Capitol.  Trump’s concern was how Pence had let him down by not engaging in an unconstitutional act to try not to recognize the certified state electoral college vote results. This tweet was read to the crowd outside, and the mob chanted over and over “Hang Mike Pence!”  We have now all seen this.

But probably the most dangerous part of this whole episode, I mean even probably worse than that Trump might have overturned the election and turned the US into a lifetime dictatorship run by him, is that when the mob was within 100 feet of Pence, the backup nuclear football was with him, carried by a Secret Service agent.

Now, if the mob had been a bit faster and caught Pence, certainly that Secret Service agent would have resisted vigorously, probably to the extent of giving up his life. But if the mob had succeeded in obtaining that nuclear football, well, maybe there are limits on the ability of a random person getting that object that keep them from destroying all human life on this planet.  But even short of that, there is no doubt that one of these people could have brought about very serious trouble.  This story needs more reporting, not how mean Trump was not to stand up for his VP who was following the law to certify the electoral college votes that would bring about the end of Trujmp’s presidency.

Barkley Rosser