In the previous part of this series, I focused on problems which will almost certainly arise from one of Trump’s recent executive orders- namely the one about “temporarily” banning entry into USA of people from certain predominantly Muslim countries. In that post and a subsequent standalone post, I made the point that his Muslim ban was problematic for reasons that have little to do with it targeting Muslims. Firstly, it simply reinforces the widespread perception (in USA and rest of the world) that Trump makes decisions without regard to considerations of legality, feasibility, prior official positions or the risks inherent in such abrupt changes in direction.
Secondly, and perhaps far more importantly, the rest of the world (including friendly countries) see this ban as yet another confirmation of their view that trusting Trump or the USA to follow through on any agreement made in the past or even in the future is a bad idea. The second type of problems are more important that the first, since it is relatively easy to gloss over localized problems arising from personality quirks of a head of state than it is to overlook an increase in systemic risk due to a pattern of unpredictable behavior. In other words, the rest of the world would not care much if Trump’s break from the past was localized to one or two areas.
As I briefly mentioned in the previous post of this series, Trump is trying to implement large shifts from past positions on issues in a large number of areas- from immigration and international trade to reproductive right issues and dramatically ramping up the police state in USA. Moreover, his attempts to shift positions have been characterized by an unwillingness to understand the factors which made them the default in the first place. For example- increases in immigration (legal and otherwise) are largely due to the insatiable thirst of corporations for ever-increasing margins of profit. The same is true for constant increases in international trade including “free” trade.
And that brings us to the inevitable and massive international repercussions inherent in Trump’s desire to effect large shifts in major policies on a number of issues..
The relationships between nation states, unlike those between entities within a nation-state, are almost totally dependent on their mutual perceptions. These perceptions in turn are largely based on experiences of prior interactions. Furthermore, a lot of these perceptions are contingent to the parties not making any sudden deviations from their prior positions. For example- it is widely understood that China is unlikely to invade Taiwan in the near future (say.. the next 5 years) in spite of its long-term official position on that issue. Similarly, it is understood that India is going to keep on building more nuclear weapons, ICBMs and nuclear submarines in spite of what its leaders say or any residual international pressure.
Relationships between any two nation states can survive a lot of friction as long as both parties do not make any unexpected and sudden moves. The USA was, for many decades, widely seen as a nation-state with predictable behavior and policies- even if they were unsavory. Foreign and trade policies of USA, as bad as they might have been, remained reasonably consistent and stable irrespective of who was the president or which party was in power. Furthermore, changes in these policies were gradual and constant (predictable) rather than large and abrupt (unpredictable). It is this relative stability and consistency which allowed the USA to successfully create and sustain international organisations and treaties.
Trump’s desire to effect large shifts in multiple areas of national and international policy upsets the relative stability and consistency which have characterized the previous few decades. They also negate many established perceptions about the USA which are essential to relatively smooth and predictable interactions between that country and the rest of the world. For example- the continued functionality of many international organisations such as NATO, IMF etc are intimately tied to USA not deviating too much from past positions. The same is true about all those existing international trade agreements which the USA is a party to.
Think about it this way- would you enter into a business partnership where you could lose money or more with somebody whose behavior was highly unpredictable? Also, would you maintain or expand a business relationship with somebody who exhibited sudden and large changes in their behavior? Well.. the same holds true for relationships between nation states. The point is that Trump’s desire for large shifts to many policies makes it very hard for the USA to sustain, let alone improve, its existing relationships with various other nations. Now, this would not have been that big a deal if we were still living in the 1850s, 1910s or even 1950s- when you could get by without much of a two-way interaction with the rest of the world.
But we no longer live in those eras. Today, manufacturing and supply chains of everything from your toothbrush and clothes to CPUs and airliners span the entire globe. While it is certainly possible to argue about the desirability of this particular setup, we cannot deny that it exists. Nor can we pretend that waving a magic wand will somehow change the system the next month, year or decade. Also, it is not realistically possible to reproduce a previous era since each era is largely the product of conditions and circumstances unique to that era.
In other words, Trump’s desire to effect major policy shifts in multiple areas will almost certainly damage a whole slew of international relationships without most people in USA benefiting from them. It is sorta like wrecking the house you live in without having a feasible plan to quickly move into a new house. In my opinion, it is unlikely to end well- to put it mildly.
What do you think? Comments?
I recently came across an interesting YouTube channel about organic (and inorganic) chemical synthesis. While this might not be of interest to many of my regular readers, it is nonetheless fun to watch.
YouTube Channel – NileRed
Clip 1: How to make Fluorescein.
Clip 2: Making Dibenzalacetone.
Note- While this post develops on ideas discussed in my previous post, it is best kept separate from that series- largely because this post is heavily focused on one particular issue rather than a pattern or trend. It is however likely that some observations made here will be generically valid for later parts of that series.
I am going to start this post by first talking about its specific focus- namely Trump’s recent executive order “temporarily” banning entry into USA of people travelling from 7 largely Muslim countries. It should be noted that order, as it is being implemented, also prevents the entry of permanent legal residents and others travelling on valid visas from those countries- in spite of what Trump’s cronies are claiming. I also do not have to tell you that this order has resulted in a lot of public opposition, including but not limited to, large public demonstrations at various major airports all over USA.
The intense public reaction against this executive order is, in my opinion, perhaps the smallest problem created by this stupid action. Even the constitutional and legal problems associated with that executive order are at best medium-sized problems. The largest and most dangerous of the many problems associated with implementing such a stupid plan are linked to its long-term secondary and tertiary effects. Let me explain..
1] Irrespective of what Trump and his sycophants say, it is clear that his “temporary” ban on entry by people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries is a Muslim ban. Only a retard would believe that this ban is not the first step in a futile last-ditch attempt by white nativists to hang onto their make-believe position in a world that has irreversibly changed, much to their disadvantage. Trump’s other plan to deport tens of millions of “illegal Mexicans” is just another part of his futile attempt to raise the dead.. also known as making USA white again.
So why does this matter? Well.. consider the demographic profile of USA. Do you really think that pissing off every non-white person and, perhaps, half the whites in USA is a good strategy? The pivot point of real power has already irreversibly shifted away from the types of people who enthusiastically voted for Trump (as opposed to those who did because he was not HRC). To make a long story short, such actions make any future peaceful co-existence between his hard-core supporters and everyone far less likely- to the detriment of the former.
2] Trying to implement policies which deviate from established norms, even if they enjoy popular support, is problematic as the best of times. Trying to force irrational and regressive policies when half the country sees that person as proto-Hitler or proto-Mussolini does not help Trump’s public image- to put it mildly. It should be noted that even disastrous and disliked presidents like Bush43 and Nixon37 were never widely seen as illegitimate- especially at the beginning of their presidency. At some point in their first term, both of these now detested ex-presidents enjoyed popularity ratings as high as 80-90% .
There is, therefore, no comparable example in living history of an american president who has such low popularity AND was widely perceived to be illegitimate. Once you add the fact that he seems to be implementing policies which people associate with totalitarian regimes- it is fair to say that he is willingly (or accidentally) marking himself out as proto-Hitler or proto-Mussolini, at least in the public imagination. I would not be surprised if people start treating him as a totalitarian leader who was not legitimately elected- especially if his economic policies fail to deliver increased incomes for working-class people within the next 2 years.
3] The biggest difference between a conflict among two groups within a nation and one between two nations is that the former type has one final arbiter, while the later has none. Consequently, conflicts between nations (or nation sized entities) can go on for as long as either nation (or entity) involved in it can afford to continue. Even worse, as examples such as the recent failed occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by USA show, intense but diffuse conflicts can go on for far longer than modern nation states can afford to sustain them.
But what does any of this to do with Trump’s Muslim ban? Well.. a lot. His actions, you see, have jump-started a new and counterproductive phase in a conflict which has been simmering for some time. While the current ban affects only 7 Muslim countries, you can bet that the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world (even those who are otherwise nor religious) have been mentally mobilized against the USA, Trump and his loyal followers. More importantly, even those who were Muslims in name only now have no reason to play nice with USA. The same goes for leaders of Muslim countries whose rulers and leaders used to be favorably disposed towards USA.
4] And this brings us to the next long-term effect of this particular act of stupidity. The ability of USA to operate in many parts of the Middle-East and North-Africa (and similar places) depends on it being able to trade financial and other favors with the local ruling class. These is a reason why the kids of the elite from many of these countries study in well-known american universities and buy expensive real estate in USA. For most of post-WW2 history, the USA has managed to keep the promises made to the local elites of those countries.
But what happens if the USA acts in a manner that makes any such promises deeply suspect? Why would the local elites of those smaller countries keep playing with an entity that is already hated in their realms? Would you keep on going to work if you were not getting paid? Would you work for somebody whose actions have demonstrated that they intend to not pay you? What makes you think that the local elite in those countries would keep on playing nice with USA if they believed USA wanted to stiff them later?
5] But perhaps the biggest and most problematic long-term effects of Trump’s Muslim ban and his immigration and trade “policies” are on the international credibility of USA. Let me quickly explain that point in a bit more detail. Relationships between nations, whether they are of a commercial or military nature, are based on the credibility of involved parties. The credibility of a nation is largely dependent on how other nations see it based on their past experiences and signs of policy continuity- economic and military. That is why, for example, the west makes pokes fun at North Korea but does not have the balls to invade it.
Trump’s Muslim ban in combination with his stated beliefs about many others topics such as immigration, trade and race are a significant change from official american positions on those issues for many decades. While that might seem like a good thing to many of his mediocre racist.. I mean “patriotic” supporters, it makes it very hard for other countries to believe in the willingness of USA to honor ANY agreement or treaty they sign from now on. To be fair, the USA has often unilaterally broken more than a few agreements and treaties in the past. However, today it simply does not have its previous size and power differential vis-a-vis the rest of the world.
To summarize, Trump’s Muslim ban is a self-destructive idea because it opens the door to large systemic problems in the future without solving the problem it was intended to address.
What do you think? Comments?
I had written the previous two post of this series (link 1, link 2) in the 2-3 weeks after Trump’s election on November 8. While it was tempting to write more parts of this series at that time, observing his actions immediately after assuming the presidency before writing the next part seemed to be a better idea. As many of you know, Trump has taken multiple and often conflicting positions on a variety of important issues over the years. Perhaps even more unusually for a politician, he has often done a 180 on his previous position on some issues- without even acknowledging that he took conflicting positions in the past.
For example- he is on record as supporting the right to abortion, being agnostic about it and opposing it depending on the personal benefit of taking one of those three position at a given time. Similarly, he is on record as supporting single-payer healthcare systems, supporting mixed private-public healthcare systems or defending complete privatization of the healthcare system- depending on the personal benefits of taking one of those three positions. In other words, it appears that Trump has few (if any) fixed beliefs about a large number of issues. More worryingly, especially since he is now the president, Trump seems to believe that his public perceptions about his past position on issues have no effect on his current position on them.
And all of this brings us to what Trump has been doing since he was formerly sworn in as the president on Jan 20, 2016. As many of you must have heard by now, Trump has been signing a shitload of controversial executive orders since he assumed office last week. They range from the hilarious (national day of patriotism), somewhat populist (withdrawing from the TPP), expected (mexico city policy on funding NGOs, approving new oil pipelines), plutocrat enriching (eliminating some rebates on mortgage payments), dangerous (starting repeal of ACA without an alternative plan, OK-ing the construction of a wall between Mexico and USA) to the batshit insane (banning entry of people from some Muslim countries, even legal permanent residents, into the USA).
Now, it is certainly possible to imagine that his executive orders are more theater than substance and might not survive legal challenges. However a lot of the concomitant rhetoric coming out of Trump’s mouth and tweets suggest that he is more than a bit serious about actually implementing those orders- especially the dangerous and batshit insane ones. I had briefly mentioned (in a previous post) that his positions on Mexican .. well.. actually all non-white immigrants and citizens has special potential to cause severe disruptions and unrest in the country. Events of the previous two days have added another issue to the list of those which have similar or even higher potential for disruption and unrest- albeit for different reasons than the “mexican” issue.
You might have heard that Trump has signed an executive order banning people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the USA- even if they happen to permanent legal residents. Curiously, people from these seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) have never ever been implicated in a terrorist act within USA. Furthermore, people from the two Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) whose residents have been implicated in almost every single Islam-inspired terrorist attack in USA are still free to enter USA.
To be fair, establishment democrats and their supporters had no problems in the past when Obama tried to overthrow the government in two of these countries + expanded “war on terror in the other five on that list. It is also no secret that the rise of organisations such as ISIL was aided and abetted by the overt and indirect policies of the Obama administration. In other words, there is more than a bit of hypocrisy when establishment democrats who were perfectly OK with bombing people in these countries and funding organisations bent on overthrowing their governments pretend to be shocked and angry at Trump taking their stupid policies to the next level.
Having said that, this latest move by the Trump administration is especially problematic- and not just in the immediate and widespread popular response against its implementation. As many of you realize, such executive orders and their implementation creates a new set of bad precedents. If you can ban the entry of people from countries accused of terrorism by the government, in spite of evidence to contrary, what is there to stop this (or a future) president from banning people of other religious, ethnic or racial groups from entering the country legally? Now some old and decaying american racists.. I mean jingoists.. might think that such actions have no consequence in international relations with other important and supposedly white countries.
As it turn out.. a lot! many of the supposedly important and white countries are no longer as white or important as they used to be in the past. Consider, for example that many west-european countries such as the UK, France, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland have a fairly significant minority that is not white or christian. Do you really think that Trump won’t sign future executive orders to ban Muslims (often second or third generation) from west-European countries from entering USA? Do you really think that implementing such orders would not cause serious problems in those countries? Do you really think that many countries in that position would not reevaluate their relationship with USA? Do you really think that there would no financial consequences (for both sides) of such actions?
The problem with Trump and people who think like him is that they live in world which does not and cannot exist now. There was a brief period (between 1945-1949.. perhaps until the early 1960s) when the relative power differential between the USA and the rest of the world (especially non-white countries) was large enough for the USA to get away with some stupid shit. But that was a long time ago and things have changed a lot since the early 1960s. In 2016, the USA simply lacks the power differential to pull that type of shit without screwing itself in the process. Today everyone knows that the USA is not an exceptional country. Today everyone has seen the USA lose against insurgencies in even poor medium-sized nations and lacks the ability to win a war against any other nuclear power of consequence.
I think it is likely that this particular move by Trump will turn into his first real public relations disaster, very likely to due to internal protests and legal challenges. However, this “Muslim ban” also provides an interesting window into how Trump and people around him see the world. It is now fairly certain that Trump and his advisers inhabit a mental world where the USA is far more powerful than it is in reality. Therefore, I expect Trump (and his associates) to make similar moves in a number of other areas- from trade and immigration to internal issues such as “law enforcement”. Needless to say, it won’t end well for Trump, his associates, the republican party, average Americans and to a far lesser extent- the rest of the world.
In the next post of this series, I shall try to write about the panoply of problems (both obvious and not so obvious) consequent to Trump’s policies wrt to people of Mexican descent in USA- citizens, immigrants and undocumented. That is.. unless his recent Muslim ban causes even more unrest and problems which I then have to write about.
What do you think? Comments?
I recently came across decent amateur drone footage for the two castles most associated with Vlad the Impaler aka your historical Dracula. The first one is known as Poenari Castle and is situated on the top of a fairly steep mountain. Though it is small (10-15 metres wide by about 80 meters long), it does possess both the remoteness and relative inaccessibility mentioned in the Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic-horror novel ‘Dracula‘. Regrettably, it over 200 km away from where the novel places it. Also, repeated earthquakes in that area have reduced it to little more than a ruin. Historical records do, however, suggest that the castle in question once had three floors.
The second one, known as Bran Castle, is far more associated in the public imagination with Dracula- largely because it looks like a “real” castle and is relatively well-preserved. However this castle, unlike the one at Poenari, is highly accessible and near population centres such as Brașov- so it is unlike the one described in Bram Stoker’s novel. Curiously, there is evidence that Bram Stoker deliberately chose the top of an uninhabited peak in the Carpathian mountains known as Mount Izvorul Călimanului for the location of his fictional castle. Sadly, I could not find similar drone footage for Mount Izvorul Călimanului.
As many of my regular readers already know, I have long been a supporter for legalization of all recreational drugs. More than a few of my older posts have talked about issues such as the deliberate insanity of drug prohibition. I have also talked about the peculiar association between a certain kind of racism and the origins of the “war on drugs” in USA. It would be correct to say that the vast majority of official policies against recreational drug use in USA are based in racism and class-ism.
So why were such racist, inhuman and ineffective policies still popular in USA? Well.. because they appeal to the belief systems and worldview of a (if now slim) majority, who still exist in a previous era. To be more precise, anti-drug policies appealed to the white working class by allowing them to feel superior to non-white members of the populace. Furthermore, it allowed them to participate in (and often profit from) the systematic abuse, impoverishment and murder of non-whites. It would be fair to say that the “war on drugs” in USA is really Jim Crow version 2.0- and I am certainly not the first person who has made that comparison.
Now, I am not saying that ALL working class whites supported the “war on drugs” and other anti-drug use measures simply because they were stupid, petty and greedy racists. However even a casual study of trends in american politics during the 1945-2001 era show that support of anti-drug measures (including long minimum sentences, onerous plea bargains, increase in mass incarceration, cutting welfare and other “tough on crime” policies) was largely driven by white racism towards non-whites. It is also worthwhile to point out that support for such policies has little connection to actual rates of violent criminal behavior.
But systemic socio-economic and demographic changes have a way of permanently altering the playing field against those who benefited from the previous status quo.
And that brings us the post-2006 era. As many of you must have read and heard on multiple news outlets- opioid overdose (prescription or otherwise) now accounts for more deaths in USA than either automobile accidents or death by guns. It is also worth noting that the vast majority of those who die by opioid overdose are members of the white working class. Some recent studies have claim that opioid overdose kills more people per year in USA than HIV did at the height of the AIDS epidemic. There are even studies which correlate voting patterns in a given area during the 2016 election to the severity of the opioid overdose problem in that area.
While some want to blame the entire opioid overdose “crisis” on profit-seeking behavior by the pharma sector, it is clear that larger and more systemic forces are at play. Even a cursory look at the location of areas hardest hit by the opioid overdose crisis reveals that these areas were economically depressed for a decade or two before the crisis became noticeable. Furthermore, many states to contain some locales that have been heavily affected by the overdose crisis next door to others that have not been similarly afflicted. Clearly then, big pharma pushing opioid prescriptions to make a quick buck is at best a contributing cause to the problem of widespread opioid overdose.
In my opinion, the long-term social and psychological effects of prolonged economic immiseration are the main cause of the current opioid overdose crisis. It is not a coincidence that areas with high rates of opioid use usually also have high rates of recreational amphetamine use and high rates of alcoholism. The simple fact is that prolonged economic immiseration of areas through loss of well-paying jobs initiates a secondary and tertiary series of changes to the lives of people who still live in that area. These changes ultimately result in an environment which causes people living there to lose any sense of hope and personal agency.
It is, therefore, not surprising that many people living in such areas turn to drugs which blunt their perception of pain and loss (opiates, alcohol) or make them feel happy for short periods of time (amphetamines). Incidentally, that is also why rates of drug use among blacks in certain inner cities have been historically quite high. There is a certain delicious irony in watching supposedly “respectable” members of the white working class turn to high levels of drug use for the same basic reasons as all those non-white people they used to look down upon.
The opioid overdose epidemic among working class whites should be seen as just another symptom of their progressive immiseration under the neoliberal socio-economic order. I should also point out that this class were once the biggest cheerleaders and enablers of the very same predatory capitalist practices and corporate behaviors that have now ruined their lives. It is somewhat funny to watch people go from lecturing others about pull themselves up by their bootstraps to overdosing and dying like the very people they used to look down upon.
I should also point out that the white working class in USA has been historically opposed to expansion of the social safety net and legalization of drugs- because they though it might help those “undeserving” non-whites. I guess they never thought that they would one day end up at the bottom of the barrel.
What do you think? Comments?
I recently came across an interesting, and actually objective, clip about the origin of Trump’s Surname. The guy who runs that channel is a British (or Welsh?) expat who has lived in Germany for over two decades. His YouTube channel also has videos about the history of certain peculiarities of the German language + his visits to many local events in nearby cities and towns in that country.
Here is an example of his travel videos. I find them to be well produced and researched.