Where We Stand Now

Biden and Sanders

To belabor the obvious, Biden really cleaned up last night, doing significantly better than expected.

To belabor a point being sorely overlooked, Biden is still a weak candidate. Yes, even after his good day yesterday. He stutters, and he has a penchant for malapropisms. That’s not a serious mental defect (he’s still mentally fit and basically sane), but it’s definitely a campaigning defect. It makes him crappy at debating. People see the stammer and see his age and naturally assume senility. This could significantly hurt him.* Plus he has a lot of political skeletons in his closet (such as the Iraq War vote). So we are not out of the woods yet, and we won’t be until November. This is the case even if Biden is, contrary to current expectations, not the nominee; Sanders is also a weak candidate.

* Yes, that’s unfair. Life is not always fair. Biden should make his stutter (and his personal triumph over it, despite being in a field where public speaking is important) a recurring subject of his campaign ads, to keep this fact in the public mind.

Biden does seem to be a stronger candidate than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders; Biden’s margins of victory over Sanders yesterday were significantly better than Hillary’s in the states Hillary won, and Biden won states that Hillary lost. On the minus side, Biden is untested against Trump. Thankfully, Trump isn’t exactly the best verbal wordsmith, either, so the two should be approximately equally handicapped on the debate stage.

Warren

At this point, she’s an also-ran hoping to be a behind-the-scenes player. Unfortunately for her, she did so poorly last night that she may choose to drop out soon.

Her main achievement in the race was playing a key role in the destruction of Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage in Las Vegas. Bloomberg was an astoundingly weak candidate, and Warren did the party a huge service by helping take him out, particularly given that he was at one point on the verge of being coronated the “responsible” centrists’ candidate of choice.

It’s sort of a pity she seems less likely to play a role behind the scenes at the convention, since (absent being compelled do do the right thing) Biden is likely to fall for the idiocy of appointing a centrist as his VP, when tacking left and appointing a progressive would be the more pragmatic (i.e. the one likely to secure more votes) choice.

Coronavirus

First, all candidates are at risk. Trump, Biden, and Sanders are all elderly, a prime risk group for the disease. Worse, campaigning requires them to travel, and to be present in crowds, making close contact with thousands of other people each day. Political candidate is one of the highest-risk occupations for disease exposure that I can think of. It would not be a surprise if one or more candidates is hospitalized or even dies before the campaign completes.

Second, it presents political opportunities for both sides. Democrats can make political hay by pointing out how our lack of universal health care and universal sick leave makes the USA more vulnerable than it should be to pandemics, and how Trump’s lack of transparency is hurting the effort to fight the pandemic. Republicans can use the foreign origins of the disease to stoke the fires of racism and xenophobia.

Third, travel restrictions and other emergency measures almost certainly will impact the campaign to at least some degree. It is conceivable that they will be used for politically-motivated purposes, being ordered by the Trump regime to disrupt the opposition’s campaign. This should be evident if restrictions start being suspiciously timed with the Democrats flying high in the opinion polls more than they are with the incidence of infection reports. It is even conceivable that Trump will attempt to use states of emergency to postpone or cancel the election, or to indefinitely delay his departure from office should he lose the election.

Conclusion

Those celebrating the lead of an “electable” candidate in the primary must realize that we are not even remotely out of the woods yet.

Hate to Say I Told You So, Bernie Bros, But…

I’ve been pointing Sanders’ weak aspects out for well over a month, now. His poorer-than-expected showing tonight is therefore not a huge surprise.

Part of it has been a lousy turnout by younger voters. Again, that is not a surprise. Young people did not do a very good job of turning out this year in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina either. By contrast, tonight older voters turned out in even greater numbers than usual, and voted for the grandpa’s favorite. This is many things, but a “conspiracy” to “steal” votes by the DNC it is not.

I will note that the states where Biden was most favored tend to be in the Eastern time zone, so the final results will probably be more mixed than the Biden blowout that’s currently being reported.

As I have pointed out before, it is far better for Sanders’ weakness as a candidate to manifest now, in the primaries, than for it to manifest when running against Trump. If Sanders crumbled under the relatively low-grade red-baiting he received in the past few weeks, he would have been reduced to a radioactive cinder by the barrage of it Trump would have aimed his way.

Being aware of Sanders’ faults results in an ultimately more hopeful outcome for those who dream of Left success via electoral politics: it suggests that a less-flawed progressive candidate might prove significantly more viable. If media bias or dark forces in the DNC can doom any leftist, then there is no hope for a leftist candidate. It is only if there are faults on our side we can address unilaterally that there is significant hope for improvement.

I say this as someone who, believe it or not, has always admired Sanders ever since he first won election to the House of Representatives in 1990. He’s done a tremendous amount of building visibility and awareness for Left politics. It will soon be time to move on.

Biden is the Most Likely Nominee

Nate Silver has run five scenarios of what might happen today, based on the best-available current polling data. Of particular interest are the following points:

  • Three of the five show Biden emerging with a delegate lead (one shows Sanders with a delegate lead, and one basically shows a tie).
  • Even the two scenarios in which Biden does not have a clear delegate lead, the sum total of delegates for moderate candidates exceeds that for the progressive candidates.

A few days ago, it looked like Sanders was set to have a big day today. Now, not so much.

The most likely outcome is a convention where nobody gets a majority of the delegates, and the superdelegates give the nomination to Biden, because he has a plurality. Bernie will, in other words, probably get what he’s been pleading for, but he will not be the beneficiary of it.

Disaster is Brewing

Someone is going to be the Democratic Party nominee for president. Barring a brokered convention that appoints someone completely unexpected, it will be either Sanders or a centrist. The centrist will probably be Biden.

There are two main sides in this primary struggle, and only one of them is going to win. The losing side will be upset and bitter.

I’ve already mentioned the Sanders supporters unwilling to support anyone else in the general election. Well, it turns out there’s also no shortage of centrists who will refuse to support Sanders. So far as the small (but not zero) chance of  dark horse, it won’t be Sanders, so the Left will be upset.

Humphrey v2.0 or McGovern v2.0. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Did the Washington Post Get Hacked?

I use “hacked” here in the sense of someone manipulating an organization, much like someone might manipulate a computer, to get access which in normal circumstances he or she would not be entitled.

It was a shock and a disappointment to notice this article in the Post, because I had been observing Bolivia trend worryingly in the directions of leader-worship and authoritarianism for some time before the events of last October transpired, and I have believed the elections then to have been every bit as fraudulent as the Bolivians in the streets rioting against them did.

It is necessary at this point to summarize those events, because very few sources understand the totality of them correctly. There was an incumbent president, Evo Morales, who had initially promised to only serve one or two terms, go back on his word not once but twice. In other words, he was now running for his fourth term.

It gets worse. He managed to do so by getting the Supreme Court to issue a convoluted ruling that the Bolivian constitution (in which there are presidential term limits) itself is unconstitutional, because the term limits were an infringement on the right of Evo Morales to run for the office of the president. Yes, they ruled that the constitution is unconstitutional. They might as well have ruled that up is down or black is white; the ruling made that little sense.

Morales had originally tried to lift the term limits the legally correct way, via a constitutional amendment. Such amendments require a popular referendum in Bolivia, and the voters had shot down the measure in a free and fair election. Who wrote this constitution? Why, none other than a government led by Morales himself, at an earlier time, before Morales got so power-hungry.

Anyhow, Morales seemed to have gotten away with it. He ran for an illegal fourth term. Enter people power: when it became clear that the election was in all likelihood fraudulent, riots broke out. The police started refusing orders to suppress the riots. Morales ended up being driven from office and fled the country.

Then came the coup d’etat. The right wing proclaimed one of their own, an anti-Indigenous bigot, as president. Acts of repression and brutality towards the Left (which includes backers of Morales’ own party, since Morales is a socialist) began to be reported. And this is basically where we are to day: where the Left is struggling against a right-wing coup government, trying to compete in elections scheduled to happen in May.

The leading candidate in opinion polls is from the same party Morales was, MAS-IPSP. This should not be a surprise. Unlike in Venezuela, Bolivia’s leftist government has run the economy well. Bolivia has some of the healthiest finances on the continent, and there has been significant progress in modernizing infrastructure and reducing poverty and inequality. Plus, the treachery of the Right in installing a coup government automatically acted to delegitimize the opposition parties.

Also unlike in Venezuela, Bolivia’s social revolution happened as a result of multiple social movements acting on many fronts; it wasn’t just people following a single charismatic leader like Venezuela’s Chávez. It is therefore no big surprise that it was relatively easy for MAS-IPSP find another head to replace the one that was lopped off and to rebuild popular support.

End of historical background summary. Or, shall I say, what I believe to be an accurate summary. I was then shocked to see the article linked above, which claimed that the elections were not in fact fraudulent. Had I been snowed by the Establishment media? It was an unsettling possibility.

It turns out that, no, I have probably not been snowed by the Establishment media. Quite the contrary: it appears that the Post has been snowed by an apologist for left-wing authoritarianism. It was not terribly difficult to find the Twitter account of one of the study’s authors. In it, he approvingly retweets a sneering dismissal of an article critical of left-wing authoritarianism (particularly that in Venezuela) in Jacobin magazine.

The dismissal ludicrously claims, “This article may as well have been written by the State Department.” I read that article. It was written by an evident Trotskyist. Its criticism, given all that happened in Venezuela, is very timid and mild. It spares no effort to see things in as favorable a light as possible to the Maduro regime. Yet, it still arrives at the inescapable conclusion that the Maduro regime has done inexcusable things (not a surprise, as that regime has done many, many, truly awful things). As an example of its general tone, it contains the following paragraph:

Koerner’s habit of making false statements continues in his discussion of a May 2019 article I wrote for Jacobin. Following a bizarrely worded and inaccurate contention that “The university professor backpedaled on some of his previous claims,” Koerner pens another fabrication: “Hetland appeared to be entirely unaware that the opposition attempted a coup d’etat scarcely three weeks before.” It seems Koerner is “entirely unaware” the article references and condemns “[Juan] Guaidó’s desperate and comically ineffective April 30 coup attempt” and “appalling recent opposition violence.” [emphasis added]

To put it mildly, I am not aware of any analyses from the U.S. State Department that claim Juan Guaidó is the leader of an illegitimate coup d’etat. It doesn’t matter. Gabriel Hetland issued some mild criticism of Venezuela, therefore Hetland is guilty of apostasy against St. Chávez and is obviously a running-dog lackey of Western imperialism.

I have studiously avoided the use of the phrase “useful idiot” to refer to Jack R. Williams, because if there is one thing he is not, it is an idiot. He is obviously very smart, and skilled at using statistics to prove whatever point he wishes. I am sure that the statistics he presents are accurate, but I am also sure that he spent much time selecting precisely the subset of statistics needed to paint the election fraud as something other than what it really was.

Mayor Pete Steps in It

In one fell swoop, he managed to alienate:

  • The Left (because he’s sneering at the Left),
  • Queers (because he’s dismissing the politics of Stonewall), and
  • Blacks (because he’s dismissing the direct actions that forced the government to pass the Civil Rights Acts).

I was going to cast my protest vote (against the two nearly-unelectable old white men at the top of the ballot and the general sorry quality of the entire gaggle of candidates) for him. No more. If it is acceptable for Cuban-Americans to get turned off by a weak stance on Castro (and it is), then it is acceptable for queers, the Left, and Blacks to get turned off when someone sneers at our gains (and I am in the first two groups).

Compromise is one thing. Expecting people to sell out the core of their own dignity is quite another.

I think I’ll vote for Warren. I don’t consider her terribly electable (she lets people troll her too much), but then again, I don’t consider anyone in the field terribly electable (yes, I have a generally bleak outlook right now). She is, after Sanders, the leftmost candidate, which is another plus.

She probably won’t win. However, I’ve long predicted that she would make the logical running mate for Joe Biden, and a higher turnout for her may well encourage that decision to be made. And Biden needs encouragement to do the right thing here (if, indeed, it ends up being his decision to make). Hillary probably lost the election when she gave the Left a big F.U. by nominating not a progressive but another centrist as her running mate.

It’s Not Taking Long

The CDC is starting to publicly come on board with my predictions about coronavirus.

Note I said “publicly” above. They doubtless have known the awful truth (and know the awful parts left unsaid by them so far) for a week or more. They’re just letting it out in small chunks, instead of all at once, to reduce the shock value and thus minimize the chance of causing panic. A responsible agency really can’t do otherwise, after all.

Sanders is Probably Doomed

Doomed to lose either the primaries or the general election, that is.

As much as I’d personally like to see a socialist in the White House, when you stand on stage and get booed for praising a dictatorship and your reaction is to cluelessly ask “Really? Really?,” your chances of winning in November are probably pretty slim. Just telling it like it is.

And yes, Bloomberg has done worse. He’s not merely praised certain isolated aspects of communist dictatorships, he’s praised an actual communist dictator, going to far as to deny that the dictator is in fact a dictator: “Xi Jinping is not a dictator. He has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive.”

Bloomberg is not getting heat for it while Sanders is simply because Bloomberg is a capitalist, and is issuing the praise so that he can personally profit from doing business in the country the dictator rules. Yes, this is unfair. Yes, it shows what a rotten farce our bourgeois society is. Welcome to the real world. (It’s suddenly news to you that bourgeois society is a rotten farce?)

But, guess what? Sanders could have used the above facts to rip Bloomberg an entirely new asshole. Instead, he blurted out the name “Xi Jinping” without providing further context, then went back to his lame shtick of left-splaining Castro, and couldn’t understand why he got booed for it.

Sanders sounded like nothing but an out-of-touch old grandpa. An old grandpa steeped and marinated in leftist subculture, to be sure, but still an out-of-touch old grandpa. He failed to go on the offensive and eviscerate one of his opponents. His handling of the issue was political malpractice of the first order.

Postscript

Of course, if when verbally eviscerating Bloomberg, Sanders used words like “bourgeois,” it would make his counterattack totally fall flat. I can get away with using that word, because I am not running for president.

After I settle in for a few more years, I could probably even get away with using such language publically and then run for local office here in Bellingham. We’re a college town, with a history of also being an industrial town where organized labor was very strong (so strong that the local newspaper of record was run by unions, not capitalists, for many years). We’re also a hippie haven.

Most people here are not anarchists, socialists, or communists, but most people here know someone who identifies as one of the above labels, and know that most movements to accomplish worthy things have had radicals in them. They wouldn’t find my my choices in labeling toxic. Quirky, yes. Toxic, no.

If my opponent tried to red-bait me, the most likely overall response would be “F.U., you corporate droid, I’m voting for the scruffy anarchist just to piss you off. The world won’t end, and unless he’s an obvious failure at preforming his office, I won’t have a problem with him representing me. That will piss you plastic corporate types off even more.”

My guess is that Vermont operates in a similar way. The whole state has something of a reputation as a haven for old hippies. But the USA as a whole is not Vermont. What can play in a hippie haven can’t always play well nationwide.

Egads. Spare Me.

First, the whole Sanders/Castro flap. Kiss Florida goodbye, Bernie. It is simply not possible to state anything even remotely positive about Castro without pushing the hot buttons of most Cuban-Americans. That the statement was in context of criticism of Castro’s authoritarianism matters not. That the Castro regime does in fact have its positive accomplishments, amongst them the ones Sanders cited, also matters not. Logic matters not when strong emotions come into play.

Next, Bloomberg is planning to spend millions in an attempt to damage Sanders. It is simply not possible for a billionaire to say anything to the backers of a candidate whose entire marketing premise is that the “billionaire class” has too much power that would persuade them to change their minds. It doesn’t matter how many awful and self-destructive things Sanders does; nobody in his base is going to pay attention to criticism coming from a billionaire. In fact, the criticism will probably make Sanders stronger; he will be able to point to its source as evidence that he is genuinely the threat to the power of the economic elite that he claims he is. The only candidates capable of effectively criticizing Sanders as the ones who are not themselves billionaires.

Both of these points are so blindingly obvious that I was shocked when I learned what Bernie had done and what Bloomberg was planning to do. Shocked and dismayed. A weak candidate, one likely to fail in November, is leading in the polls and just about to get stronger. Just great.

It’s a Pandemic, People. Prepare.

When the Fukushima Daiichi reactors melted down, I could tell something really bad was was happening, despite the general lack of news stories that something really bad was in fact happening. (The news coming out was designed to give the impression that it was serious, but not Chernobyl-serious.)

Why? Because of how the news cycle happened. Normally, in the case of a potentially serious nuclear accident, one would expect the number of stories about it, and the details given in those stories, to rapidly increase. That didn’t happen with the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Instead, the stories only slowly trickled out, and often were not even on the front page.

Furthermore, facts were appearing in those non-front-page stories that were extremely disquieting to anyone with a basic knowledge of nuclear reactor design and operation.

The big one was when they started reporting that sea water was being used to cool the reactors. Nuclear reactors are precision equipment, operated with meticulous care to ensure outside contamination doesn’t promote unexpected corrosion or intoduce dirt that might hamper their operation. Reactor cooling water is highly purified and closely monitored for contaminants. Yet they were now pumping raw sea water into the reactors “to cool them.”

Sea water is extremely corrosive stuff. A significant part of the civil engineering is coping with how corrosive salt water is to structures. And yet they were pumping this corrosive stuff into a nuclear reactor of all places? The only way that would make sense is as a last-ditch desparate measure.

Moreover, modern nuclear reactors are closed systems: the primary cooling water is simply recycled over and over, pumping it through microfilters to keep it as clean as possible. As such, it is unusual and abnormal to have to add water to them, because this normally means that water is somehow leaking out. A leak of primary cooling water means a leak of radioactivity, since the primary cooling water is in contact with the reactor core and therefore itself becomes radioactive.

Put it all together and it meant that the reactors were leaking massive amounts of radioactivity and were on the verge of or starting to melt down, and its operators were frantically taking last-ditch desperate measures. That was the only conceivable narrative that made sense of all known facts.

Then reports started filtering in (not prominently featured reports, of course, but still reports from reliable and trusted news sources) of privately-run radiation monitors showing elevated levels. More than one monitor was showing elevated levels, which points to a distant major leak of radiation, not a nearby minor one. Obviously, at least one reactor had fully melted down, and was now spewing radiation like mad into the environment. Fukushima was, in other words, another Chernobyl.

At that stage, I tried pointing that out to people, and almost universally got the reaction that I was being a baseless alarmist. When all was said and done, the IAEA gave the catastrophe a rating of 7 on a scale of 1 to 7. The only other nuclear catastrophe to rate a 7 so far has been, yes, Chernobyl.

The overall moral of it all is that news agencies do sometimes act in concert, downplaying the seriousness of a story. Most likely, this is done out of a sense of responsibility on such agencies to avoid instilling mass panic.

The reporting about coronavirus reminds me of nothing if not the reporting about Fukushima Daiichi. Again, we have a story about something of extremely serious concern. Again, the reports haven’t been dominating the front pages as much might be expected: if coronavirus becomes a pandemic, it will by all best evidence be Spanish Flu v2.0, given that the best evidence indicates coronavirus is approximately as lethal as the Spanish Flu was. That’s a really big story. Yet it only sometimes comes up on the front pages; stories about the primary election dominate here in the USA.

Let’s review some of the basics about coronavirus, shall we?

  1. Known: It emerged in China.
  2. Known: The Chinese government admits that over 77,000 have been infected in that country.
  3. Known: China is a totalitarian dictatorship.
  4. Known: Totalitarian dictatorships tend to cover up or downplay news stories that make their countries look bad.
  5. Known: Coronavirus has a long incubation period, which has generally suspected to be up to 14 days.
  6. Known: During that incubation period, a person is contagious, and doesn’t even know it.
  7. Conclusion: Therefore there are likely far more than 77,000 Chinese infected right now, most of whom are running around infecting others, because they don’t even know they are sick.
  8. Known: Quarantines have been based on that 14-day incubation period.
  9. Known: Evidence is now emerging that the incubation period might be longer than 14 days.
  10. Conclusion: There is therefore a good chance that the quarantines will prove to be ineffective, and that coronavirus is already spreading uncontrolled in most of the world (we just don’t know it yet, due to the long incubation period).
  11. Known: Coronavirus has been reported in Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq.
  12. Known: Syria lies between Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq.
  13. Known: Syria is currently a war zone.
  14. Known: It is difficult to know or control what happens in a war zone.
  15. Conclusion: Therefore coronavirus is or soon will be in Syria.
  16. Known: Coronavirus has also been reported from Afghanistan.
  17. Known: Afghanistan is also a war zone.
  18. Conclusion: By virtue of being present in a not one but two war zones, coronavirus is now spreading absolutely uncontrolled.

All of the facts tagged as known above have been reported by well-regarded news sources. The only thing I am doing here is assembling them in one place, in a logical order, and arriving at some inescapable conclusions.

As mentioned before, the closest analogue to coronavirus is the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which spread worldwide and killed between 40 and 100 million people, or between 2.2 and 5.5 percent of the global population. If it happened today, that would be a death toll of 170 to 430 million. That is the most likely eventual outcome of coronavirus that can be predicted using the best available current knowledge.

When (not if, when) coronavirus becomes widespread in whatever country you live in, expect the same sort of severely disruptive total lockdowns of entire cities and regions now going on in China. Expect shortages and disruptions of food and common household goods. The time to start stocking up and preparing for this is now.