Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Extended Economic Distortion and a review of what it was like living in America during WWII

In a May 2, 2020, post here the term "" was first introduced:

    In this writer's opinion, too many pundits talk about the economic situation in terms of a recession or even a depression. The problem is mankind has never before seen an economy like the economy of the first two decades of the 21st Century. So we have never seen a reaction to a radical pandemic-based shift during such an economy.
    “It is impossible to overstate the pain that people are feeling now and will continue to feel for years to come,” [Bill] Gates warns us.
    The reaction is likely to lead to an Extended Economic Distortion, not a "great" recession or depression. Mistrust, a general sense of unease, is likely to be felt by most people. And the real meaning of "people" in this context is "consumers" whose spending drives the worldwide "consumer economy" which in the United States represents about 70% of economic activity.

Beginning with that post two years ago, 14 posts here have included some discussion of the Extended Economic Distortion.  Now in its second month, the Russia-Ukraine war has added a different twist. While American fuel costs rise, the headline at CNBC on April 1 was Millions of Brits plunged into fuel poverty on Friday as household energy bills surge and the April 21 Guardian offers People are struggling to pay their energy bills – here’s a simple idea that could help. Simply European nations are being clobbered because of the ties to Russian oil.

The folks at Bloomberg have already told us:

    A barrage of shocks is building that’s unlike anything emerging markets have had to confront since the 1990s, when a series of rolling crises sank economies and toppled governments.
    Turmoil triggered by rising food and energy prices is already gripping countries like Sri Lanka, Egypt, Tunisia and Peru. It risks turning into a broader debt debacle and yet another threat to the world economy’s fragile recovery from the pandemic.

The difficulty in dealing with the situation of Ukraine ties back to the Orange Revolution of November 2004 to January 2005 in Ukraine and was followed in the next decade by Euromaidan, Revolution of Dignity, and the War in Donbas. But Americans know all about this, so no links are needed. (Yeah, right.)

At the beginning of the 2022 Russia-Ukraine war, the head of the World Bank David Malpass said the economic impact of the war stretches beyond Ukraine's borders, and the rises in global energy prices in particular "hit the poor the most, as does inflation". He noted food prices have also been pushed up by the war, and "are a very real consideration and problem for people in poor countries".

Many Americans are eager to aid the Ukraine people even to the point of joining the war against Russia. The fact is black folks have been killing each other for decades in places like Sudan and Ethiopia and all the efforts of George Clooney in the Sudan haven't stirred the American people and their government anything like the Ukraine situation where white folks have been killing white folks for less than two months.

So before we go to war - perhaps against Russia and China - let's pretend that a nuclear war wouldn't be a likely outcome and instead we'd just have to prepare for a war similar to WWII. Here are just a few of the things that were required of Americans then:

  1. Over a year before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, on September 16, 1940, the United States instituted the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 and thereafter inducted 10.1 million men into an armed force of approximately 15 million who fought WWII, of whom 405,399 were killed.
  2. Unlike in WWII, where 27 million Russians died and 10.2 million Chinese died, both civilian and military, the United States experienced no warfare on its mainland.
  3. The U.S government ended all civilian automobile sales on January 1, 1942,  typewriters in March, and bicycles in May. In addition  gasoline, shoes, rubber footwear, silk, nylon, fuel oil, stoves, meat, lard, shortening, food oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled, and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood, coal, jams, jellies, and fruit butter were rationed, among other things.
  4. Civilian hospitals received only small amounts of penicillin during the war, because it was not mass-produced for civilian use until after the war. A triage panel at each hospital decided which patients would receive the penicillin.
  5. Officials in American coastal cities were well aware of their vulnerability to air attacks and began ordering practice blackouts long before the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor. On March 8, 1941, Seattle became the first major American city to test its blackout procedures. This expanded across America. There were blackout drills that forced people to practice their response to the air-raid alarm signal—a series of intermittent siren blasts. Air-raid wardens supervised the blackout drills, cruising up and down neighborhood streets to make sure no light escaped the houses. By early 1943, there were about 6 million volunteers in public protection roles such as air-raid warden.

Of course, if a nuclear war with both Russia and China occurs, few, if any, Americans would be alive to put up with these inconveniences.

In the meantime, the U.S. is already running out of resources to bail out our economy from the Extended Economic Distortion. So let's calm things down a bit and quit pretending that we have the military capability to beat Russia on their own turf. The last idiots who thought that were the Germans in WWII. Ukrainians are hoping for a stalemate.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

This article caused me an "Oh crap" moment after 40 years worrying about advocating computer tech; Elon Musk's Twitter offer magnifies the anguish

I had just placed in perspective my worries after reading the above article a few days ago when Elon Musk's offer to buy Twitter made the headlines. Today at the livestreamed TED 2022: A New Era conference Musk explained that he hopes to “open source the algorithm” to try and improve trust in the platform.

“Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square, so it is just really important that people have the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law,” Musk noted.

He added: “This is not a way to make money, my strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization, I don’t care about the economics at all.”

It is unclear what Musk thinks "the bounds of the law" are when free speech is the issue. But one thing is certain - Musk feels no constraints and given his economic resources has no constraints. 

Much of the world's population is constrained and feels frustration and anger regarding the constraints. Technology has evolved to the point that the one thing that has become nearly totally unconstrained is the ability of that population to express that frustration and anger to literally everyone else, instantly, to amplify that frustration and anger.

As a member of the "Silent Generation" I feel troubled by even the small, but active role I played in my early unconstrained embrace of computer technology evolution.

In December 1980 my wife and I started a business providing computer services, computerization studies and computer sales to businesses and government.

We were using Tandy Model II's, adding Model 100's (both of which would be considered primitive today), writing and rewriting software. These were early commercially successful computers offered by Radio Shack. By early, I mean they were preceded by the Model I, and the Model 100 was a laptop, maybe the first commercially successful true laptop.

From the beginning we noticed that - contrary to the propaganda - we were generating more paper than ever, not reducing the paper load as was one of the early arguments for computer use. 

But we forged ahead with a future of using computers, though still troubled by the symbol of a lot of results not quite like we anticipated - printouts piling up in and on filing cabinets, desks, etc., which now are huge files stored in the clouds - to what end is unclear.

By the late 1990's we were using Motorola second generation handheld mobile phones. Understand that these were phones, just using radio frequencies to connect to other folks using their wired phones in their businesses and homes, though we could talk to each other and to a few others directly via those radio frequencies.

In the mid-2000's we observed another troubling phenomenon. We had a grandchild that never lived a life that did not include watching screens - TV screens of course, but tablet-shaped toys with screens, and then computers and cell phones with screens which came to be referred to as "devices."

We worried about this, but couldn't quite pin down the broad societal "why" of that worry.

As we all now know, the most socially significant result of this technological evolution is today's social media, as explained in the article linked to the image above:

    Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.

It is a long, well-written article that offers a warning about the future:

    ...The newly tweaked platforms were almost perfectly designed to bring out our most moralistic and least reflective selves. The volume of outrage was shocking.
    It was just this kind of twitchy and explosive spread of anger that James Madison had tried to protect us from as he was drafting the U.S. Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution were excellent social psychologists. They knew that democracy had an Achilles’ heel because it depended on the collective judgment of the people, and democratic communities are subject to “the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions.” The key to designing a sustainable republic, therefore, was to build in mechanisms to slow things down, cool passions, require compromise, and give leaders some insulation from the mania of the moment while still holding them accountable to the people periodically, on Election Day.
    The tech companies that enhanced virality from 2009 to 2012 brought us deep into Madison’s nightmare. Many authors quote his comments in “Federalist No. 10” on the innate human proclivity toward “faction,” by which he meant our tendency to divide ourselves into teams or parties that are so inflamed with “mutual animosity” that they are “much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.”
    But that essay continues on to a less quoted yet equally important insight, about democracy’s vulnerability to triviality. Madison notes that people are so prone to factionalism that “where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”
    Social media has both magnified and weaponized the frivolous....

Today we understand that worry we had, the "why" that troubled.

As early as 1996 the widening use of mobile phones in law enforcement caused one writer to note that "all these covert horizontal exchanges are potential breeding grounds for autonomous subgroups and informal organization as well as for various kinds of deviant behavior, because the participants can easily agree to attenuate or circumvent prescribed rulings."

At that time the mobile phone was still only a means of voice communications, not the primary visual and audio access to interact with the world for the vast majority of individuals. And it needs to be understood that the current level of interaction is without societal constraint.

Exactly how this means to create a nearly instantaneous "twitchy and explosive spread of anger" could be constrained in a democratic society fully committed to unconstrained communications is difficult to imagine. 

But it will be critical to the survival of democratic forms of government to deal with the shift of the concept of "free speech" from an environment of the "founding fathers" time that essentially limited communications between individuals to those physically present in a common space to a reality that almost anyone, almost anywhere in the world, at any time can communicate speech and images privately to anyone anywhere else in the world.

As I am very old and will not see the outcome of this, I can only hope that younger people such as Jonathan Haidt, the author of the article can guide a process towards an outcome consistent with the beliefs of James Madison. Otherwise the Chinese have a better chance of maintaining their society than we do ours.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

You've heard of NATO, but probably not the UK Joint Expeditionary Force. Ignorance is American.

If you think the U.S. and NATO are leading the European response to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, you might be surprised to learn that leaders of the UK Joint Expeditionary Force nations (shown on the map above) met on March 14 at  Chequers, the country house of Britain’s prime minister.

The next day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a statement to the press:

    “We agreed that Putin must not succeed in this venture,” Boris Johnson told The Economist the next day. They agreed to “co-ordinate, supply and fund” more arms and other equipment requested by Ukraine. And they declared that JEF, through exercises and “forward defence”, would seek to deter further Russian aggression—including provocations outside Ukraine that might stymie NATO or fall under its threshold.

The story goes on to explain:

    JEF, largely unknown outside defence circles, was established a decade ago as a high-readiness force focused on the High North, North Atlantic and Baltic Sea regions (see map for its members). Unlike NATO, it does not need internal consensus to deploy troops in a crisis: Britain, the “framework” nation, could launch operations with one or more partners. As one British officer puts it: “The JEF can act while NATO is thinking.”

The article also notes: "For Europeans, much of this is about strategic autonomy—in part an effort to insulate their defence from the vagaries of American politics."

The article points out that on January 17th Britain began rushing thousands of NLAW guided missiles to Ukraine (the acronym stands for Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapons which a product of the Swedish company Saab which has been sold to a number of NATO countries). They are also sending anti-aircraft missiles.

As noted in The Baltic Times by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, whose country has provided over 220 million euros in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine: "In order to ensure the security of our region, defense cooperation in all formats is essential. This is why concrete steps must be taken, including training exercises organized, so that what is being done within the framework of the JEF would also ensure the security of the Nordic-Baltic region more than before."

This should not be confused with the Anglo-French Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) and other European defense agreements which operate outside NATO.

About that comment “The JEF can act while NATO is thinking.”

It should also be understood that between them Britain and France have about 515 nuclear warheads. Russian, of course, is the other European nation to possess nuclear weapons with about 6,250. Needless to say, the "successful" use of a dozen nuclear weapons by each in the current Ukraine conflict would be catastrophic. It would pretty much make NATO and the United States politically irrelevant.

And, in fact, the possession of those weapons by Britain and France pretty much make NATO and the United States politically irrelevant.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

As with the complexities of Climate Change and The Covid Economy, European History Complicates (The) Ukraine More Than Americans Understand

If you didn't notice, we have been again informed by experts who completed a new study that Climate Change has started and cannot be stopped.

Also the Covid-created Extended Economic Distortion continues unabated as the cost-of-living skyrockets.

And then there is the Russian invasion of Ukraine...

...or The Ukraine as it was called in the millennium when it was part of Russia before the Soviet Union came into being. Of course, there is no justification for starting a war which is the systematic killing of people for a political objective. With that said....

Lest you believe everything reporters born after 1959, and particularly those born after 1989, are telling you about (The) Ukraine, here is something you need to know from Wikipedia:

    Leonid Brezhnev was born on 19 December 1906 in Kamenskoye (now Kamianske, Ukraine) within the Yekaterinoslav Governorate of the Russian Empire, to metalworker Ilya Yakovlevich Brezhnev (1874–1934) and his wife, Natalia Denisovna Mazalova (1886–1975). Brezhnev's ethnicity was given as Ukrainian in some documents, including his passport, and Russian in others.
    His 18-year term as general secretary was second only to Joseph Stalin's in duration. While Brezhnev's rule was characterised by political stability and significant foreign policy successes....

In other words, the man who ran the Soviet Union for the longest period time was a Ukrainian except for Stalin who was a Georgian. You also might find the article How Ukrainian-origin leaders dominated the Soviet Union interesting as it covers the Ukrainian backgrounds of Nikita Khrushchev, Konstantin Chernenko, and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The difficulty for Americans is just how far removed we are from Europe, and more particularly European history. Without wading back through distant history, one needs to understand that in 1903 the map of the area of the Russian Empire now known as Ukraine looked like this:

Good luck finding the word "Ukraine." And that was at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Ah, but many say, the Ukrainians have their own language as a people.

If you ignore what are considered migrant, extinct (or nearly extinct), and foreign languages, the following are languages used in Russia other than Russian: Abaza, Adyghe, Altai, Avar, Bashkir, Buryat, Chechen, Chukchi, Chuvash, Crimean Tatar, Dolgan, Even, Evenki, Erzya, Finnish, Ingush, Kabardianucasian, Kalmyk, Karachay-Balkar, Karelian, Khakas, Kazakh, Khanty, Komi-Permyak, Komi-Zyrian, Mansi, Hill Mari, Meadow Mari, Moksha, Nenets, Nogai, Ossetian, Selkup, Tatar, Tuvan, Udmurt, Ukrainian, Veps, Yukaghir, and Yakut. Of these peoples, which would you be willing to risk a nuclear war to protect their right to self-government, democratic or otherwise.

And just in case you haven't noticed, NATO has expanded into the Russian (Warsaw Pact) sphere since the Soviet system fell apart. Would you consider this aggressive if you were a Russian leader:

Over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, NATO expanded three times: first to add the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland; then seven more countries even farther east, including the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; and finally with Albania and Croatia in 2009.

Despite concerns expressed by some Americans and others, as noted by Reuters in December 2021 NATO and the U.S. rejected a statement from the Russian foreign ministry saying "NATO was on a path to draw in Ukraine, leading to the deployment of missile systems there that would target Russia. Such irresponsible behaviour creates unacceptable threats to our security and provokes serious military risks for all parties involved, right up to the point of a large-scale conflict in Europe. Ukraine and Georgia are former republics of the Soviet Union."

This came after Putin on July 12, 2021, actually published his views on the subject in a lengthy essay entitled On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians. If you know what's true and right about the Ukraine situation, of course you have already read it. But if you haven't you should, partly because it was written by Putin, but also because it isn't an inaccurate history though tinged with a particular point of view.

That point of view was clearly described in a February 28 interview of Fiona Hill in Politico:

    Reynolds: So Putin is being driven by emotion right now, not by some kind of logical plan?
    Hill: I think there’s been a logical, methodical plan that goes back a very long way, at least to 2007 when he put the world, and certainly Europe, on notice that Moscow would not accept the further expansion of NATO. And then within a year in 2008 NATO gave an open door to Georgia and Ukraine. It absolutely goes back to that juncture.
   Back then I was a national intelligence officer, and the National Intelligence Council was analyzing what Russia was likely to do in response to the NATO Open Door declaration. One of our assessments was that there was a real, genuine risk of some kind of preemptive Russian military action, not just confined to the annexation of Crimea, but some much larger action taken against Ukraine along with Georgia. And of course, four months after NATO’s Bucharest Summit, there was the invasion of Georgia. There wasn’t an invasion of Ukraine then because the Ukrainian government pulled back from seeking NATO membership. But we should have seriously addressed how we were going to deal with this potential outcome and our relations with Russia.

In other words, knowledgeable U.S. experts have known for a decade and a half that this situation was evolving. But the email titled Russia-Ukraine Conflict Shocks World, Brings Cybersecurity Worries says it all. It is complicated. It is dangerous. And we never once thought it was important. That's not Joe Biden's fault.