American Elephants


The Background to Current Events: by The Elephant's Child

Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin is the essential history to current events. We tend to think of World War II as “the good war,” celebrated in movies and fading memory. It was good in the sense that it was a war waged against true evil, but it was a desperate war in which the whole world was threatened. But we tend to forget the Cold War, a time when kids hid under their desks, and people built fallout shelters. Before World War II even began, index America’s wartime ally Josef Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens—and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was finally defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war’s end, both the German and the Soviet killing sites fell behind the iron curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.

Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history, in the time and place where they occurred: between Germany and Russia, when Hitler and Stalin both held power. Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.

Timothy Snyder has done a series of articles for the New York Review of Books about the current crisis. Worth your time:  “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda,” and “Crimea: Putin vs. Reality.



China’s Renewables Industry Is Collapsing. by The Elephant's Child

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China has gone in for “renewable energy” in a big way.  Their solar panel industry has gone from nothing to becoming the world’s largest producer in only five years. But the industry has now crashed with with negative profit margins, idle factories and soaring levels of debt.

Suntech, a solar panel manufacturer, has been a national champion which became the world’s largest, filed for bankruptcy in March after it defaulted on payment of $541 million of bonds. The Chinese government is scrambling to clean up the mess by offering tax breaks to all solar companies who acquire or merge with their competitors.

LDK Solar, another leading Chinese producer, was forced to turn to provincial and local government for protection from its creditors. LDK was the brainchild of the local Communist Party Secretary, and received millions of dollars in state subsidies, cheap financing, land and electricity in 2005. The local government is pumping in money to keep it from sinking, but the company has already shed 20,000 of its 30,000 employees and its shares are 98% below their peak.

China’s solar panel sector remains massively overbuilt. Demand for solar panels has been shrinking as governments in the West learn that it was the subsidies that made solar energy attractive.

Wind power is little different. Sinovel — one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufactures — was earning hundreds of millions of dollars in profits in 2010, to millions of dollars of losses that grow by the day. Revenues are a fifth of what they were in 2010. In 2012, 17% of all windmills lay idle, the power they produce too expensive to connect to the grid. In some regions, 50% of all windmills remain unconnected to the grid.

China’s green sector crash is a textbook example of a command and control economy, where “experts” substitute their ideas for the complex supply and demand decisions of a free market. The Chinese state gave Chinese manufacturers near-monopoly powers and almost free money. The Bank of China, one of the largest state-owned commercial banks, says that 21% of its solar loans are in or near default. The average debt ratio is 75.8%.

To save face, China’s central planners have switched from subsidizing suppliers to subsidizing demand by demanding that power producers meet green targets in the domestic market. China can, of course force consumers to buy solar energy, but that doesn’t really solve anything. Chinese power customers would just pay the price in more expensive and less reliable power.



You Can’t Turn Your Back On Russia! by The Elephant's Child

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Ukraine seems to be caught once again between the West and Russia. The European Union has wanted to establish a more modern policy towards Eastern Europe through the proposed association with Ukraine. The highlight of Friday’s Eastern Partnership Summit was supposed to be the formal signing of an agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, instead put the deal on hold.

Ukraine is a huge country torn between a western portion that looks towards Europe and Brussels and an eastern region that remains highly influenced by Russia. Kiev erupted with massive and bloody protests as hundreds of thousands of protesters poured into the Independence Square. But it is not just about Ukraine’s relationship but with Europe’s relationship with Russia, the sensitive former world power. Ukraine was once a part of the Soviet Union, and although few remain who lived through the Holodomor, when the Soviets deliberately starved Ukraine in the 1930s, the national memory is strong.

President Yanukovych was elected promising to smooth relations with the Russians, but had intended to sign the agreement with the EU. EU member states like Poland want to direct the EU’s influence toward the east, in part as protection against Russia. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin plays power politics. The EU has its own financial crisis, as does Russia, but Russia is promising to give Ukraine billions in loans, but without guarantees.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso rejected Russian interference, saying “What we cannot accept is a condition on a bilateral agreement to have…a possible veto of a third country.”

Russia once lorded it over the entire Eastern bloc, but for the last 25 years has had to sit back and watch as one country after another has turned its back on Russia, and looked towards the West. The Soviets gave them good reason to turn their backs on Russia, but it must be humiliating for the Russians. Putin wants to stop what he sees as the West’s advance all the way to Russia’s borders. Lots of sticky problems here. Russia is  well-provided with natural gas, and has threatened to blackmail a Europe that is flush with expensive alternative energy that is far more costly than anticipated. Yanukovych is widely regarded as corrupt, and has complained about the International Monetary Fund’s refusal to simply give him billions in loans without conditions.

Police responded violently, leaving many of the 500,000 protesters bloody and beaten, but officials from both Russia and the West were taken aback by the scale of the protests. The battle is now between the street and Yanukovych.

In some ways this is just the continuation of an old story. For the background, I highly recommend Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder.  A new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history. Required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.



The Collapse of Government Medicine in Socialist Venezuela by The Elephant's Child

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The shelves are bare in Socialist Venezuela. The people are scrambling to find toilet paper, sanitary napkins and disposable diapers. Milk and automobile parts are also in short supply in the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

Now medical care is in short supply. The country’s 1999 constitution guarantees free universal health care to Venezuelans, yet of the country’s 100 fully functioning public hospitals, nine in 10 have just 7 percent of the supplies they need.

Doctors not allied with the government say many patients began dying from easily treatable illnesses when Venezuela’s downward economic slide accelerated after Chavez’s death from cancer in March. Doctors say it’s impossible to know how many have died, and the government doesn’t keep such numbers, just as it hasn’t published health statistics since 2010.

Almost everything needed to mend and heal is in critically short supply: needles, syringes and paraffin used in biopsies to diagnose cancer; drugs to treat it; operating room equipment; X-ray film and imaging paper; blood and the reagents needed so it can be used for transfusions.

Last month, the government suspended organ donations and transplants. At least 70 percent of radiotherapy machines…are now inoperable in a country with 19,000 cancer patients – meaning fewer than 5,000 can be treated, said Dr. Douglas Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.

Venezuela has a limited private health care system, but even the 400 private hospitals and clinics are overburdened and strapped for supplies, 95 percent of which have to be imported. The private system has just 8,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 hospital beds, but treats more than half of the country’s patients, including the 10 million public employees with health insurance. Insurers, many of which are state-owned, are four to six months behind in payments and they cannot meet payrolls and pay suppliers.

Worse, government price caps set in July for common procedures are impossible to meet, Rosales said. For example, dialysis treatment was set at 200 bolivars ($30 at the official exchange rate and less than $4 on the black market) for a procedure that costs 5,000 bolivars to administer.

“The health care crisis is an economic crisis. It is not a medical crisis,” said Dr. Jose Luis Lopez, who oversees labs at the Municipal Blood Bank of Caracas.

Single-payer health care is socialized medicine. Obama’s health care advisers were uniformly great admirers of the British National Health Service, probably because medical care that was “free” at the point of service has made the British dependent on government for care, and often returned the Labour party to office. It has evolved into a national shame.

There are always some who believe that health care is so important that it should be socialized, that it should be a “right.” When you have a nation of people who are using health care as much as they want with no restraint, you soon do have an economic crisis.



More Than You Wanted to Know About May Day: by The Elephant's Child

It came to my attention that President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation today, to proclaim that this is Loyalty Day, 2013. Huh? I had never heard of Loyalty Day, but it appears that it began in the Eisenhower administration. How could I have missed it? Presidents issue a proclamation every year. It’s a presidential thing. But let’s go back a little:

May Day in many cultures has marked the beginning of spring, a half-year from  All Hallows, celebrating the bringing back of the light, moving the cattle out to the fields, having a big bonfire and parading the cattle around the bonfire decorated with bright yellow may flowers. The Celtic countries called it Beltane, in Germany it was pretty much the same thing except called Walpurgisnacht after an English missionary named Walpurgis, also bonfires and celebration.

Just where and when it became a May Day celebration with maypoles and baskets of flowers, I’m not sure. (I checked with Wikipedia, but didn’t pay too close attention).

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In small towns, young people made little may baskets filled with flowers and hung them from a friend’s front door, then rang the bell and ran away, leaving the basket a mystery. That’s all pretty tame, and when the Soviet Union began to take over May Day to show off their military might and their solidarity, maypoles began to seem a little wimpy. Besides those Soviet parades were annoying.

May Day Soviet

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Revealing Tweet of the Day: by The Elephant's Child

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It is always helpful when members of the opposition tell you what they really think.



Why Marxism? Why Would Anyone Want Such a System? by The Elephant's Child

Professor C.Bradley Thompson speaks on “Why Marxism?” Why, indeed? Every time it has been tried, it ends with the government slaughtering its own people. They start off with Utopian dreams and end up with 100 million dead, ruined economies, desperate people and an assortment of concentration camps, reeducation camps and gulags.  What possible appeal can there be? Ignorance of history, no understanding of consequences and a yearning for absolute power.



The Mysterious Case of the Empty Cities of China by The Elephant's Child


Britain’s Daily Mail has satellite pictures of 14 major new cities in China that are essentially— empty. No cars, no people, empty buildings, empty housing. They are ghost towns. Some have been  abandoned years after their construction. “Some estimates put the number of empty homes at as many as 64 million, with up to 20 new cities being built every year in the country’s vast swathes of free land.”They have pictures of 35 empty cities.

A Chinese government think tank speaks of a real estate bubble with property prices overvalued by as much as 70 percent.  The article warns of real estate bubbles and increasing prices, but why do prices increase if there are no buyers? I have seen elsewhere a tour of a new Chinese city with no population, fine stores — empty, a whole city, just empty. The suggestion is of housing too expensive for people. In a normal capitalist market, you would just lower the prices to start inhabiting the city, but this is not a normal capitalist country.

Obama has celebrated China’s new high-speed train, yet ordinary people cannot afford to ride it, and it has become a financial catastrophe for the nation.  Are these empty cities just a vast infrastructure project providing construction jobs for the unemployed?

The Daily Mail article doesn’t really explain anything. I saw pictures a while back of what was called the world’s largest traffic jam that went on for miles and lasted for days, so there are cars in China in significant numbers.

If anyone can explain this mystery, please comment. It is a puzzlement.



The Dysfunctional Search for Utopia Will Always Fail by The Elephant's Child

Janet Daley is an American born, British columnist and writer for the Telegraph. She had an important column in the Telegraph yesterday, on free market economics and the private banking system.

But in spite of the official agreement that there is no other way to organize the economic life of a free society than the present one (with a few tweaks), there are an awful lot of people implicitly behaving as if there were. Several political armies seem to be running on the assumption that there is still a viable contest between capitalism and Something Else.

If this were just the hard Left within a few trade unions and a fringe collection of Socialist Workers’ Party headbangers, it would not much matter. But the truth is that a good proportion of the population harbours a vague notion that there exists a whole other way of doing things that is inherently more benign and “fair” – in which nobody is hurt or disadvantaged – available for the choosing, if only politicians had the will or the generosity to embrace it.

She suggests that you try an experiment. Gather a bunch of 18-year-olds, and ask them what world event occurred in 1945.  They should ( I hope) be able to tell you how the Second World War ended and some vague idea of its aftermath. Then ask them what historical milestone happened in 1989?  Deer in the headlights?

The failure of communism should have been, after all, not just a turning point in geo-political power – the ending of the Cold War and the break-up of the Warsaw Pact – but in modern thinking about the state and its relationship to the economy, about collectivism vs individualism, and about public vs private power. Where was the discussion, the trenchant analysis, or the fundamental debate about how and why the collectivist solutions failed, which should have been so pervasive that it would have percolated down from the educated classes to the bright 18-year-olds? Fascism is so thoroughly (and, of course, rightly) repudiated that even the use of the word as a casual slur is considered slanderous, while communism, which enslaved more people for longer (and also committed mass murder), is regarded with almost sentimental condescension.

Bad guys in the movies have long been Nazis, and in thrillers the KGB, but compared to Nazi concentration camps, the Gulag is practically unknown. Communism committed mass murder at far greater rates than Nazi Germany — something far over 100,000,000 murders, but still seems to be regarded as a more “fair” way of running a government. Communism has been a dismal failure everywhere it has been tried, and socialism is following closely behind.

Now we have the Occupy people wallowing in tents and filth to protest Capitalism, waving their communist signs around — yet the one thing they make clear is that they have no understanding of the free market whatsoever.  And these are the people that George Soros is supporting and hoping will become a real revolutionary movement by next summer.

Janet Daley adds:

If the European intellectual elite had not been so compromised by its own broad acceptance of collectivist beliefs, maybe we would have had a genuine, far-reaching re-appraisal of the entire ideological framework. And that might have led to a more honest political dialogue in which everybody might now be talking sensibly about capitalism and how it needs to be managed. It is people – not markets – that are moral or immoral. Communism’s fatal error was in thinking that morality resided in the mechanisms of an economic system rather than in the people who operated them.



“Sustainable Development” Isn’t Sustainable. It’s Just a Buzz Word. by The Elephant's Child

Of all the words devised to deceive us, the most recent buzzword, is “sustainable.” Usually used in reference to the environment as “sustainable development,” sustainable fisheries, sustainable forest management, sustainable land management, sustainable living, sustainable yield — and as you should gather from that list, it is complete nonsense.

We have some ideas about that which is unsustainable, for we know the estimated life cycle of some things.  We know, for example, about how long each different kind of roofing material will last. People base their purchasing decisions on manufacturers warranties. But after a certain number of years, the unsustainable will probably break down. We can make sensible estimates based on past experience.

But we don’t know the future.  Prognosticators don’t even do well with their predictions for the coming year.  Great plans are  laid out, and events make mincemeat of them.  Businessmen lay out strategies for the future, and the bankruptcy courts are littered with their corporate bones. The future is unpredictable. Consider the Japanese Tsunami, Arab Spring, the Deepwater-Horizon disaster, and the surprises you have had in your own life. Surprise is the nature of things, not predictability.

The “sustainable” people are usually the greenest of earnest environmentalists. They believe that nasty, dirty petroleum  is unsustainable — “peak oil” is just around the corner, the same corner it’s been just around for years. They believe in “the limits to growth,”and the population bomb.  They see an Earth in deep decline because it is not behaving as they would have it behave.  They believe that because wind and solar energy are free, and “natural” that they are “sustainable”, and that “sustainable development” will depend on these free sources. Wikipedia says:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

They believe that the United Nations in conjunction with the world’s NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) is more suited to run things and make everything fair and equal.  Ordinary worker people will live in high-rise cities, the intelligentsia will live in the more rural areas outside the cities, and the area between the cities will be returned, as it should be, to wilderness, where other species can be sustainable. What they have in mind for the developed word is “De-growth,” which may be what we are currently experiencing.

The proponents of  de-growth reckon that the term of sustainable development is an oxymoron. According to them, on a planet where 20% of the population consumes 80% of the natural resources, a sustainable development cannot be possible for this 20%: “According to the origin of the concept of sustainable development, a development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, the right term for the developed countries should be a sustainable de-growth”.

The Wikipedia article is long and meandering and full of far-left looniness. It has often been explained that ardent communists migrated to the environmental movement when the Soviet Union collapsed. That’s why they call them “watermelons” — green on the outside, red on the inside.  They particularly enjoy large meetings in the world’s resort places, fancy hotels, delightful food and service all paid for by their governments.  That’s not sustainable either.



10,000 Protest in Moscow Over Electoral Fraud! by The Elephant's Child
December 6, 2011, 2:14 pm
Filed under: Communism, Freedom, Politics, Russia, Statism | Tags: , ,

Anti-Kremlin demonstrations— discontent over oligarchical rule spilling into the open.  These are largely young people in their 20s and 30s. Russian youth want more democracy, more people power and more justice.  These are the largest protests seen in the Putin era.

(h/t: The Exiled)



R.I.P. Lana Peters: Stalin’s Only Daughter Dies at Age 85. by The Elephant's Child
November 29, 2011, 6:52 am
Filed under: Communism, History, Russia, The United States | Tags: , ,

Lana Peters was born Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalina. She was the only daughter of Joseph Stalin. She grew up in the Kremlin, where she was Stalin’s “Little Sparrow.”Her life was spent in the shadow of the man who helped to establish Soviet communism., and killed far more people than Hitler, who gets far more public opprobrium.

Her mother shot herself when Svetlana was 6, after her parents argued at a banquet, although Svetlana didn’t learn that until she was a teenager.

In 1929 Stalin demanded “the eradication of all kulak tendencies and the elimination of the kulaks as a class.” It was in effect a war declared on a nation of smallholding farmers. More than 2 million peasants were deported, 6 million died of hunger, and hundreds of thousands died of deportation.  That was followed by the Great Famine, when more than 6 million people in the Ukraine and the Northern Caucasus died of forced starvation in one of the darkest periods of Soviet Russia.

That was followed by the Great Terror, which in turn was followed by the Great Purge of the Red Army, which left Soviet Russia very short of experienced military officers for their battle against Nazi Germany.  Svetlana described seeing her father die of a stroke in 1953.  As the USSR began reforms under Khrushchev, her life became increasingly difficult and she dropped her father’s name in favor of her mother’s, Alliluyeva.

In 1967 Ms. Alliluyeva defected to the U.S.,with a manuscript of her memoir in hand.Her memoir “Twenty Letters to a Friend” was an international best seller, as was a sequel “Only One Year” which described her defection to the U.S. via India.  She had traveled there to deposit the ashes of her third husband, a prominent Indian communist, in the Ganges.

She became a U.S. citizen, and settled in Princeton N.J. She visited Taliesin West on an invitation from Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow, where she met and married architect William Peters, a Wright protégé. They had a daughter, though they soon split. In 1984, Ms. Peters returned to the USSR, reuniting with her son, a physician. She denounced the West as starkly as she had once denounced her homeland. She stuck that out for two years, and then returned to the US.

She eventually settled in Richland Center, Wisconsin, where she lived in obscurity in a one-room apartment.  She lived always in the shadow of her father’s life. It was not an easy history to bear.




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