[UPDATE 18/3, scroll to bottom]
When the PM started his campaign to rewrite history on covid last year, I set up a Twitter account then this blog.
I’ve experimented a bit with Twitter to see how it’s changed since 2016 and to push certain memes. The experiment is over for a while at least.
I have some new projects, news on some of which will be here first. From now I’ll post below for subscribers those short comments, links etc that I would have tweeted.
Twitter is great for tracking news in some fields. In some Twitter communities there are intelligent, insightful, good-faith discussions. It’s appalling for politics and intolerable during a war. Westminster is addicted to it. The addiction adds to the worst dynamics of the old media organisations: constant hysteria, distortion, the collapse of standards for judging ‘facts’, a desperate search for clicks, no explanations of (or even interest in) the real wiring of power deep in the system, international relations and war reduced to stories much more simplistic than the classic fairy tales we read to children.
Much more ‘news’ is invented than people realise. It was clearly worse in summer 2019 than 2016. It got worse in 2020. And it’s always worse in a war. Many front page stories are pure inventions. Many senior western journalists now retweet army training scenes from years ago and *literally video game footage* as if it’s ‘heroic UKR defence’ — some of them do this while also pontificating on ‘disinformation’ and ‘what a heroic job the media is doing’.
As the media thrashes around in one emotional spasm after another, herding towards some conventional wisdom then, after a spasm, herding in a new direction, the narrative whiplash intensifies: closing the borders is racist against China… closing the borders is obviously sensible only Brexit idiots oppose it… masks don’t work … wear masks or you’re evil… ‘the rule of law’ is fundamental, ‘process’ is good… seize the evil’s people stuff now, ‘process’ is an intolerable smokescreen… sanctions won’t hurt normal Russians just the regime … we’ll use sanctions to wreck their economy and anti-war Russians (the most anti-Putin!) must be booted out of everything from chess to opera (even though it’s what Putin wants us to do)… it’s an invasion, he wants millions of Ukrainians in Russia… it’s genocide, he wants to kill all the Ukrainians…
Many of them are now cheerleading for things like a ‘no fly zone’ in total ignorance of the history of nuclear near-misses and how lucky we were to survive the Cold War. They’re emotional and they’ve spent years venting their emotions on Twitter … do something, don’t worry about nuclear war because … err… ‘World War Three has already started’! Imagine what the survivors of nuclear holocaust would make of that meme.
After the 2019 election I tried to get the PM and some senior hacks to withdraw from Twitter. I failed. I also tried to stop the PM tweeting about war/terrorism. I failed.
Advice: only use Twitter with Lists on something like Tweetdeck. I have lists for e.g science, national security/military/intel, finance, and I have a specific list for politicians and political journalists so I only see them when I want to.
I’ll post in the next day or two on military innovation, Ukraine and some news sources I think useful if you want to know what’s happening.
I’ll keep an eye on comments but don’t promise to answer everything…
I warned last September about the combination of energy markets, supply chains, Putin, Europe’s military weakness and so on, urged you to consider steps for your family’s security and said I’d sold all my shares. It was clear last autumn that Putin’s buildup was dangerous and was largely ignored in Westminster.
The current situation could escalate towards a general war. In summer 1914 we had a much more serious set of people in crucial jobs and the crisis moved much slower than a nuclear crisis does. They were overwhelmed by scale, speed and complexity and made disastrous decisions. Those in charge in the west now, such as Biden and Boris, are an order of magnitude less serious/competent. They’re dealing with something moving potentially hundreds of times faster than summer 1914 (decisions on nuclear weapons potentially have to be made in minutes) with potential casualties on the scale of ~billion. For years I’ve warned that this scale, speed and complexity — systems problems requiring systems thinking — is far beyond the capabilities of our critical institutions which would collapse in a major crisis. Covid proved the point. But of course these critical institutions have not changed.
In the UK the situation is worse than in spring 2020 because a lot of very able people came to help then, they’ve almost all gone and the few left are marginalised and/or looking for other jobs. Rather than changing the institutions, in the UK the PM has led a campaign to rewrite the history of covid and the collapse of No10 and the Cabinet Office. This has guaranteed no learning from the collapse. The broken No10/Cabinet Office system — a system that cannot communicate the most simple things, never mind execute something hard — is now responsible for signals concerning nuclear escalation.
Even if we avoid general war the effects of recent events on energy, food markets and so on will be profound. Sharp sudden price rises for food have often sparked revolutions, e.g 1848. Huge economic disruption is colliding with a) deluded energy policies in the west for 20 years, b) over a decade of roughly zero/negative real interest rates (unprecedented in centuries), and c) supply chains already reeling from covid and changes in China.
It’s inconceivable that our governments will handle all this well. Even if they suddenly started thinking better, the bureaucracies for things like energy infrastructure are so dominated by extreme friction they could not act fast.
Look at covid. Even when it’s killing thousands, politicians in the US and UK a) could not make critical institutions move and b) rarely bothered trying and c) paid no political price because opposition parties did not advocate radical action to speed bureaucracies up — nobody could even imagine acting with the speed our grandfathers and grandmothers did because almost nobody in politics has any concept of how much slower we are than they were. Most of the media has focused on opposing speeding action up and campaigning to keep these institutions high-friction. In 2021 the media was cheering legal cases seeking to declare as ‘unlawful’ the efforts some of us made to speed up these institutions. Instead of learning from our success on the Vaccine Taskforce and reinforcing Project Speed and civil service reform, which I started in 2020, the Taskforce was turned back into a normal Whitehall institution and Whitehall reform was abandoned. Signals from ‘HR’ remain: executing at speed gets you fired, not promoted; defending ‘process’ gets you promoted even if it kills people. Despite 2020’s deathtoll, No10 could not even avoid running out of tests in 2021 and closed the factory I started for domestic manufacturing. (Cf. this story on the excellent Marginal Revolution blog for another example.)
All parties and almost all the media in America and Britain are content with government institutions that take 20 years to deliver 20 miles of dual carriageway. The fact that infrastructure is now much slower and much more expensive than 80 years ago is barely discussed in the UK even after 150,000 deaths. I predict that despite the huge events now happening, again nothing significant will change. Westminster will as always focus on words, not management. Labour won’t push because a) their goal is to ally with Whitehall, not improve it, and b) Starmer’s team doesn’t have the imagination or gumption to push, as we’ve seen over covid.
If you’re rich and thinking ‘how do I influence politics?’, read this and consider what could be done to avoid Biden v Trump 2. Ideally both are derailed and neither are candidates in 2024. More on this soon too…
From my ‘weirdos and misfits’ recruitment blog… For obvious reasons we never told the media (or PM) who this recruited but it was a great success, for example the No10 Analytical Private Office and #10ds (data science team) sprang from it, tragically too late for the first wave of covid but early enough to ensure the PM was given the right data in September 2020 (he ignored it, but it’s better when failure is clear like that rather than inevitable and opaque, as in March 2020).
People in SW1 talk a lot about ‘diversity’ but they rarely mean ‘true cognitive diversity’. They are usually babbling about ‘gender identity diversity blah blah’. What SW1 needs is not more drivel about ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ from Oxbridge humanities graduates but more genuine cognitive diversity.
We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB. If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news. [Bold added]
In September 2020 I was working a lot on the review of the MoD, procurement, the disastrous rot of our nuclear enterprise and so on. Boris was paranoid about me speaking to the media so rather than briefing journalists I simply walked up Downing Street holding a copy of an important letter from General Schriever to Reagan in 1986. Schriever was one of those responsible for the revolution known as ‘systems management’ in the 1950s/60s that I wrote about HERE. It explains fundamental points about the disaster of western procurement, how we’ve regressed and forgotten things we developed half a century ago. Its lessons are directly relevant to the weaknesses of our security now. Some things I started in No10 continued. Some things died almost immediately. Reform of MoD procurement is 99% in the latter category. I wanted people in Westminster to read the letter and think about it. Obviously the reaction of political journalists was mostly hahaha, rockets, procurement, nukes, mad Cummings mad again hahaha…
In general, keep this Golden Rule in mind and consider that our nuclear enterprise is in much, much, much worse shape than ~100% of MPs have any conception of…
Biden in 1997 saying NATO expansion to Baltics and UKR would provoke a hostile Russian response.
Many people said similarly in the 1990s: a) we should not expand NATO especially to Ukraine given it’s been part of Russia and they feel it’s an existential issue for them, and b) it would be crazy to give Russians the idea we want to move missiles up to the border of UKR/Russia.
Many of the old Cold War warriors who actually won the Cold War and argued for more aggressive action against the Soviet Union — people such as Richard Pipes and Nitze — argued in the 1990s that NATO expansion was ‘a historic mistake’.
Today this argument is described as ‘appeasement’ and ‘parroting Russia’s talking points’.
It’s another example of the narrative whiplash I mentioned above. One minute senior politicians and hacks argue X, before you know it the same people define X as an unacceptable view and the good/serious people now chant not-X all over TV.
Also remember, many of those in London now screaming Putin-mad-evil were arguing 20 years ago ‘Putin is a reformer, Russia should join the EU/€’! And they were quite happy with London being ‘the laundry’.
Don’t believe me? Look at old pamphlets coming out of places like the CER, reflecting the SW1 conventional wisdom 20 years ago.
When I said to such people then ‘Putin is mafia, Russia ia mafia government, London’s nickname in Moscow is the laundry, the idea of Russia joining the EU is a joke’ - they looked as if I was mad… Similar to when I said in SW1, ‘you do realise a lot of people think elements in the KGB blew up those Moscow appartments themselves, and there’s a lot of evidence to support this view’. At the time this was seen as an extreme conspiracy theory, now it’s a widespread view among those who know about it. (If you want to see a long chain of people accidentally falling out of windows and other accidents, spend a few hours looking at investigations into this story.)
It’s reasonable to believe all of:
a. Putin is mafia, Russia is a mafia government, London should not be the laundry.
b. NATO expansion was a historic mistake, we should have aimed for a UKR that’s neutral and prosperous, with NATO completely off the table.
c. Putin bears most responsibility for the deaths in UKR.
d. Zelensky’s diplomacy before this war was shockingly bad and has been a disaster for UKR.
e. People in UKR have the right to vote for who they want but it’s sensible to consider carefully what Russia wants given it’s nuclear-armed and Putin does not care about civilian casualties and elements in D.C are happy to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian…
Highly recommend this and generally following Steve’s blog. He is one of the smartest people in the world. Unlike many very smart academics he also understands politics well.
Wallace’s moronic blank cheque
Wallace’s comments encouraging Poland to provide UKR with planes are dangerously stupid.
I would support the Poles and whatever choice they make. We would protect Poland, we'll help them with anything that they need. Poland will understand that the choices they make will not only directly help Ukraine, which is a good thing, but also may bring them into direct line of fire from countries such as Russia or Belarus. [SKY/Reuters]
The UK Secretary of Defence is a) advocating Poland do things he himself says may get them attacked, b) he says UK will ‘protect Poland’, i.e start fighting with Russia, c) he imposes no limits — ‘whatever choice they make’.
This is an explicit incitement of a NATO member to do things that get it attacked and therefore trigger Article 5, and it explicitly gives Poland a ‘blank cheque’ of UK support.
Such a ‘blank cheque’ is also what the moronic Wilhelm II gave Vienna in summer 1914. That also did not work out well for European civilisation.
This is a textbook example of what I warned about our idiocracy colliding with twitter-hysteria and nuclear escalation.
It is even worse than vague babble about a ‘no fly zone’.
Of course, most of our media are cheering such idiocy. They are so enthusiastic for escalation they are babbling about Wallace being a potential PM. Like in America, the old media is the strongest advocate for war.
This is partly because many political journalists are Notes from the Underground figures — deeply embittered about their relative wealth, power, and status, desperate to make some mark on the world. Partly incentives: war is good for clicks, attention, money. Obviously many of those who talked the most rubbish about Afghanistan and ‘democracy’ and ‘women’s rights’ for years are leading the charge for WW3.
Perhaps a campaign is needed that would promise to destroy the careers of MPs who advocate direct action that could trigger a world war? So far I notice Ellwood, Wallace, Truss would be on the hit list. Drop other names with link to source in comments…
Part of the reason for such idiotic comments is the government clearly is clueless about what its aims are or should be. At the moment London and Washington are encouraging UKR to continue being destroyed so that …? Freedom! No Munich! Putin evil! Putin mad! Putin must fail! Genocide!
Idiocracy + twitter-hysteria + nuclear escalation - bad luck/no Arkhipov = WW3…
The Golden Rule and visas
The media is cross about the lack of speed on sanctions and visas.
As usual when the media is cross, they’re screaming ‘get a grip’.
The government does not control the government, bureaucracies uncontrolled by anyone mostly control the government. Politicians talk as if the government controls the government and fundraise as if it does. The media reports as if it does. It does not. Even if the PM wants to do something sensible, assume he won’t be able to.
The bureaucracies and laws controlling sanctions and visas are complex, dysfunctional high-friction low-latency systems in which many players have a veto and even a determined PM with great help struggles to act fast, even if he wants to.
This No10 consists of a joke PM and a broken staff sunk, like in spring 2020, beneath many hard problems.
Like with, say, testing in spring 2020, you will see the media treat such problems as if they’re easily solved with mythical ‘grip’ but will see no detailed explanations of why progress is so slow. When the emotional spasm has passed, you wil then see the media support lawyers bringing legal cases complaining about the speed of action.
99% of the time the media supports high-friction low-performance government and attacks those who try to improve it. Occasionally they demand the opposite. Unsurprisingly it’s the 99% that dominates…
Narrative whiplash and Brexit
Usually Westminster babbles as you’d expect about ‘bullying’.
In autumn 2019 though, suddenly the narrative changed.
Because MPs wanted to overturn the biggest vote in British history and Bercow was helping them, they buried the reports of his behaviour.
Some such as M Beckett even said explicitly that his behaviour should be ignored because it was more important to overturn the referendum.
Today bullying is bad again.
Putin is a reformer… Putin is evil… Masks are pointless… Mask or you’re evil… Conventions are good… Overturn conventions because Brexit evil… Oh shit Cummings has outrumped us, conventions are good again…
1/ Watch for the NFZ to be rebranded ‘the humanitarian zone’ or something similar. Then they’ll poll it and show ‘overwhelming support’, though they won’t have included in the poll ‘are you OK with this even if it starts nuclear war’.
2/ See how the NYT has promoted the Azov Battalion from ‘a Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary organisation’ (2019) to ‘a unit of the Ukrainian National Guard’ (now). Now they’re goodies fighting evil. Maybe an enterprising hack could ask No10, ‘err we’re not arming Nazis are we?’
Business-as-usual No10 ‘management’ goes global
The three main UK elected people dealing with this are Johnson, Truss, and Wallace. They are known to officials across No10/No11/70 Whitehall as: the trolley, the human handgrenade, and ‘wally’.
Yesterday they gave Poland a blank cheque to do what they want to Russia, promising support in any circumstances (see above).
Poland then announced they would act.
Over night this has caused chaos as clearly UK, in true SW1 style, blurted their dopey plans to the media without discussing in DC and getting *an actual plan*. The White House has poured cold water on it generating ‘chaos’ headlines.
Normal SW1, normal result.
PS. According to social media we are indeed arming the Nazi Azov Battalion. With critical faculties suspended and SW1 loving its favourite mode of war-induced-hysteria, this will get brushed under the carpet for a while until the normal process of ephemeral mood swings kicks in. It won’t be forgotten in Russia though…
There’s back-and-forth on social media re US/Russian claims on US funded biolabs in UKR.
The US Embassy itself says that it has been involved and DoD built two labs there.
Nuland says US is ‘concerned’ about them falling into Russian hands.
Why? The US government should publish what was happening there. It would, obviously, be incredibly bad if US was funding stuff that it would be bad for Russia to get hold of. Even I, with my views on western institutions, would be a bit surprised. Though the way we’ve handled gain-of-function research suggests nothing should surprise us.
In general more transparency on biolab safety protocols is good given the appalling record of leaks and the lack of action despite covid. Fauci, of course, was one of the main funders of gain-of-function. The scientists calling for it to be stopped, including some of the best in the world, get little media coverage.
PS. One of the most interesting intel failures of the Cold War is the almost total ignorance of the US about the enormous and terrifying Soviet bioweapons research program. Much of this vanished in the collapse of 1991 including some of the researchers.
Eisenhower planned tactical nuclear strikes
In 1954 Eisenhower thought Chinese airbases supporting operations in Korea were fair game for tactical nuclear strikes, if armistice negotiations broke down.
Do you want Boris and Truss discussing how Putin may contemplate NATO bases used to support operations in UKR?
Western countries have rushed to outdo each other in sanctions.
They don’t know because none of US/UK/NATO/EU has articulated, or even tried to articulate, a serious formulation of goals.
Putin is evil… Putin is mad… Putin must fail… Ukraine must be ‘free’…
The evidence concerning US sanctions is they don’t achieve their ostensible goals (Hanania wrote a book about this a couple months ago).
The sanctions now underway are unprecedented and will have many effects including higher food prices for a billion poor people, less western influence over global finance, closer Russia-China cooperation, and a stronger China in all sorts of ways.
We rush into sanctions without discussing either what the goal is or whether sanctions will achieve it.
When I asked Prof Lawrence Freedman on twitter what he thought the goal was, he replied: it’s a signal we take it seriously.
Ok, but what is ‘the signal’ meant to achieve?!
Western politics is all about signals, it’s one of the reasons it’s so farcical. In spring 2020 one of the main ways government failed is that a load of senior people whose job was supposedly actual management of the crisis, and who had no actual expertise in communication or applied psychology, nevertheless obsessed on ‘signals’ and communication. It was disastrous (e.g ‘behavioural experts say “stay at home” won’t work’).
If any senior MP had asked in November, ‘looks like Putin may go into UKR, what’s the plan viz sanctions, escalation, deterrence?’, they would have been ignored or mocked. If the same MP had then asked now ‘but as I said in November, what are we actually trying to achieve?’, they would not be praised for having been ahead of the game but would be attacked, maybe as a ‘Putin stooge’.
Ps. The lobby clowns are happy as clams. This is a classic — two of the biggest bullshitters in SW1 tweeting about ‘the smart thing’ for getting weapons covertly across borders.
The ‘smart thing’ about secret weapons supply — from our gossip columnists…
These clowns fed you their nonsense on viruses — remember Hodges telling everyone ‘there is no herd immunity plan’, while the herd immunity plan was being explained on TV by SAGE?! They’re now happily babbling about nuclear escalation and public opinion in Moscow.
Our political hacks are terrible at reading polls in their own country where the issue is their day job. How good do you think they are analysing opinion a thousands miles away in an alphabet they can’t read?
If you’re young you won’t have seen this cycle and it must seem really weird. But I’ve watched this for 20 years. Today’s conventional wisdom will be attacked in weeks/months and those hysterically pushing for X will be on TV talking like they opposed X — and they’ll probably believe it…
Biden to Russia, 1997: ‘good luck’ looking to China
In this video you see Biden in 1997. He says Russian leaders warned him, if you push ahead with NATO expansion, we’ll look east to China.
Biden says, ‘Good luck… [laughter]… They know, I know, everybody knows, that’s not an option… They resent it but they need, they need to look west.’
When Biden and Boris call China saying ‘join our sanctions on Russian oil’, China’s reply will be a form of ‘good luck’.
One of the things that always strikes me in War and Peace is time scales: people are running around dealing with very immediate things while bigger forces operate on different time scales, pushing them around. It’s very hard to see, never mind understand, much of this. It’s even harder if you’re not looking. Everything in the incentive system for politics pushes people away from thinking long-term.
An interesting project would be to try to apply the work of Judea Pearl on causal reasoning in AI to create, at first very simple, political models. Now our politicians act without even trying to state explicitly what they think will happen as a consequence of their decisions. If politicians could see cause-effect relationships explicitly stated in places like Dynamic Land…? I started some people thinking about this in September 2020 though I assume it has stopped.
A serious country would take energy R&D seriously
As subscribers know, one of the handful of core reasons I did the referendum and what I focused on in No10 was science and technology.
This subject has been very low on the priorities list for MPs and journalists for decades. My view was seen mostly as weird/eccentric.
Doubling R&D was one of my demands of Boris in July 2019 in return for saving him/the Tory Party. Another was setting up a new funding agency outside the high friction system. Spending more money only does much if it’s spent differently. Diversity of funding is more important than the amount. (E.g in the US large funding increases have been shown to make little difference unless how it’s spent changes.)
Given how crucial energy is, it’s highly relevant that less than 1% of MPs or hacks know or care how little we spend on energy R&D. We’ve spent many many billions on subsidies for companies. We’ve spent many many billions on wars in the Middle East. Our energy policy for 25 years has been an expensive abortion. And we spend almost nothing on new ideas and technologies. All parties have been happy with this. ‘Normal’ politics means ignoring this subject other than the few days a year it’s on the front pages.
Graph from Richard Jones
We are due to spend many many billions on ‘net zero’. Sadly only a tiny fraction will go to R&D, much less than I wanted. Much will be poured down the toilet, wasted on dumb subsidies, and given to big companies as usual. ‘Net Zero’ is discussed more in the language of belief/cults than the language of science in SW1.
Even for very well run places like Singapore, energy infrastructure takes time. In the UK the high friction system is extreme. No10 will babble about energy in coming days but as always, almost everything will be words then the media circus will move on. I doubt much will change for the good. E.g I’m told the Net Zero ‘systems group’ I started setting up in No10 — to map the extreme complexity and interdependency of issues and bring in outside expertise to help government — collapsed in 2021.
One of the things I pushed was funding for nuclear research, fission and fusion. Little noticed, fusion research has made some huge breakthroughs recently here and America. Many are betting on commercial energy from fusion within roughly a decade. Given UK research we could be very ambitious on this but probably won’t be unless Vote Leave-adjacent people take back control.
How much does Putin care about UKR?
In July 2021 Putin wrote a long article (Russian links aren’t working for me today so dunno if this will work). It got very little attention at the time. Even now it seems also largely ignored.
There’s a striking passage about how significant it would be for Russia to lose UKR (bold added):
But the fact is that the situation in Ukraine today is completely different because it involves a forced change of identity. And the most despicable thing is that the Russians in Ukraine are being forced not only to deny their roots, generations of their ancestors but also to believe that Russia is their enemy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the path of forced assimilation, the formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia, is comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us. As a result of such a harsh and artificial division of Russians and Ukrainians, the Russian people in all may decrease by hundreds of thousands or even millions.
Bluff? Do you feel lucky? Is Ukraine this important to you?
Yesterday we had Britain bouncing escalation by giving Poland a blank cheque, which was shot down by Washington causing chaos (above). The nature of our government means it’s impossible to tell whether they were gambling with escalation deliberately or just because they’re clowns.
But lots of the biggest wankers in the media are cheering for WW3. Errors in this direction are largely ignored. The media prefers to smash the government over asylum seekers rather than incompetently triggering general war.
Sturgeon is an emblematic politician of our age, a triumph of media-reality over reality-reality. Today she said:
Perhaps the only thing nuclear weapons are deterring is the ability to properly and directly help Ukraine… The world cannot stand by and watch Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty be extinguished.
Of course, during the Cold War we did ‘stand by and watch independence and sovereignty be extinguished’ all over the place.
That was the price of a mostly patient strategy that barely avoided nuclear holocaust.
We also now know that we came much closer to destruction than was realised at the time.
Though when I say ‘we know’, I mean a tiny number of scholars, officials and interested observers. ‘We’ does not include the overwhelming majority of our MPs and hacks. Or the Scottish FM.
Tomorrow I’ll post on military innovation. On Friday on nuclear war…
PS. As I said yesterday, the educated hysterics are cheering the idiocy below because their minds operate a barely conscious heuristic: ‘Russia is white so it’s not racist to cheer’. Students are being thrown out of universities — even though students in the west are literally the most anti-Putin demographic. Anti-war chess players are thrown out of tournaments. Russian restaurants — staffed by Ukrainians! — are attacked. The ‘Russia is evil’ meme is sweeping the graduate class. Remember what it looks like. These are the same people constantly babbling about ‘racism’, and they’re doing this with no cognitive dissonance. They think they’re the good guys. Substitute ‘Russia’ below with ‘Pakistan’ or ‘Congo’.
No10’s management magic strikes, thank God the same people aren’t in meetings on nuclear escalation…
Classic Clegg: Facebook changes hate speech policy to ALLOW calls for killing Russians and PRAISE for Ukraine’s Nazi Azov battalion (previously banned on Facebook)!
I’ve said umpteen times Zuckerberg screwed up bigtime hiring Clegg.
While almost any news these days can be fake, including from previously respected authorities like Reuters, this has a ring of authenticity, loopy as it sounds.
Inciting violence is bad … until it’s good.
Nazis are bad … until they’re fighting for the goodies.
Racism is bad … unless it’s against Russia.
Obviously pro-Putin Russian nationalists are cheering such acts in the West, including the ostracism of anti-Putin Russians much-cheered by the NFZ lunatics.
(If it turns out Reuters invented it, I’ll obviously delete…)
Ps. As I also pointed out above, it seems the UK is now provoding weapons to the Azov. I guess if it’s OK to give Nazis advanced weapons, it’s ok to be nice about them on Facebook. Expect some extreme narrative whiplash later in the year when everyone suddenly decides Nazis are evil again even if they are mostly commiting warcrimes against Russians.
LOL the MPs and hacks who say ‘regulation good’ month after month now demanding ‘grip’ and ‘speed’ on visas
See how a load of MPs and pundits are suddenly demanding the government becomes low-friction on visas?
They are exactly the same network who normally chirp: ‘regulation is good, those calling for deregulation are “simplistic”, it wouldn’t make much difference anyway, Whitehall process is crucial…’ (When they got really worried about me bulldozing bureaucracy they tweeted things like ‘rolling coup!’.)
They’ve kept this bullshit up despite covid killing thousands directly because of high-friction high-regulation bureaucracies.
Similarly a network is demanding sudden changes on energy, nuclear, fracking etc.
But this is literally impossible with our bureaucracies, infrastructure and laws. The idea the PM could suddenly say ‘let’s frack’ and trucks start rolling in weeks is a childish idea but this does not stop the Telegraph babbling.
I am extremely sceptical anything will change on fracking. It’s almost definitely just the trolley telling spads to brief some bullshit to keep the Sun and Telegraph and a few Tory MPs happy while they wait for the toddler attention spans to shift.
It is possible to reboot nuclear debates now. But again nuclear is SO heavily regulated that it’s a deep complex job to change even if No10 made it a priority.
Given in the real world No10 cannot have priorities because of the PM’s character, I would sell the idea of dramatic progress here too.
In 2020 I set up Project Speed to delve into why so much takes so long. It met at Wednesday, noon, in the Cabinet room while political attention was on the clownshow of PMQs. An example: it is scheduled to take ~20 years to dual carriageway ~18-20 miles of the A66 road — i.e ~1 year per mile. Do you think such a system can turn on a dime on energy ifnrastructure, which takes time even for high performance government and took time for us when we were lower friction decades ago?
Media coverage of Whitehall farce only ever shows one thing: most MPs and hacks have very little idea how Whitehall really works, ‘crises’ never change this, and their chirping never lasts long, it has a predictable arc then they’re off to the next thing. Officials know they only have to wait a few days and the pressure shifts somewhere else…
Tip: Scott Alexander suggested using alerts from the prediction market Metaculus to monitor if something important is happening, and save time spent looking at ‘news’.
Make your help for UKR effective: cash not stuff
Lots of people naturally think ‘how can I help … I’ll send UKR blankets, clothes’ etc.
Lots of celebrities and media signal-boost this idea.
According to people who deal with disaster response this is NOT a good plan.
They advise instead: send cash.
This allows those on the ground to deploy resources according to local needs.
I’ve seen enough people who do this on the ground for it to seem to me extremely likely to be accurate. If anybody has a contrary view please post with sources.
Good news high status pundits are reading Payne on nuclear deterrence
I’m very critical of pundits. I should point out exceptions.
It’s very good news that one of the highest status pundits, Daniel Finkelstein, is advising people to read Payne’s work on nuclear weapons and telling SW1 to take these subjects seriously.
Payne’s The Great American Gamble: deterrence theory and practice from the Cold War to the twenty-first century. If you want to devote your life to a cause with maximum impact, then studying this book is a good start and it also connects to debates on other potential existential threats such as biological engineering and AI.
Payne’s book connects directly to Allison’s. Allison focuses a lot on the circumstances in which crises could spin out of control and end in US-China war. Payne’s book is the definitive account of nuclear strategy and its intellectual and practical problems. Payne’s book in a nutshell: 1) politicians and most senior officials operate with the belief that there is a dependable ‘rational’ basis for successful deterrence in which ‘rational’ US opponents will respond prudently and cautiously to US nuclear deterrence threats; 2) the re-evaluation of nuclear strategy in expert circles since the Cold War exposes the deep flaws of Cold War thinking in general and the concept of ‘rational’ deterrence in particular (partly because strategy was dangerously influenced by ideas about rationality from economics). Expert debate has not permeated to most of those responsible or the media. Trump’s language over North Korea and the media debate about it are stuck in the language of Cold War deterrence.
I would bet that no UK Defence Secretary has read Payne’s book. (Have the MoD PermSecs? The era of Michael Quinlan has long gone as the Iraq inquiries revealed.) What emerges from UK Ministers suggests they are operating with Cold War illusions. If you think I’m probably too pessimistic, then ponder this comment by Professor Allison who has spent half a century in these circles: ‘Over the past decade, I have yet to meet a senior member of the US national security team who had so much as read the official national security strategies’ (emphasis added).
The fact that we now know we were horribly wrong about Soviet thinking and plans for nuclear weapons is, I think, a reason for the caution we are seeing in the White House on ideas like NFZ. In the Cold War we thought that the Soviets would not use nukes in Europe because they would be deterred. In fact, Soviet plans involved early and heavy use of nukes. We did not know this at the time. I would bet 95% <50 MPs are aware of this, 50% <10. E.g It seems pretty likely Sturgeon does not know or she would not have blurted such stupidity yesterday. The sooner more know the better. I’ll return to this in the next few days.
Russia: mafia government but what sort?
Generally the British political media has been bad for 20 years analysing Putin but there is a piece sent me from the FT last week which I think is mainly accurate about the big things. It makes the following points, with some comments from me.
The business oligarchs who controlled so much in the 1990s under Yeltsin, people like Khodorkovsky and Berezovsky, were tamed by Putin and are not in charge now. Some have been humiliated. Some killed, some have had ‘accidents’. Some are still clearly in with Putin but they are subordinate and nobody is confused about who is in charge.
The old KGB are in charge. Russia in the 1990s was a truly amazingly screwed up place. A crucial way it was screwed up is that a large section of the KGB and special forces moved into organised crime because the state could not pay them — some the brains, some the muscle, some the intel/counter-intel, some the financing etc. (Imagine a large number of MI6 and SAS/SBS suddenly shifting to organised crime and you have a sense of what happened.) Putin himself was moonlighting as a taxi driver because his KGB salary was a joke.
This old KGB network have plundered the country, they are extremely ruthless and cynical, but they also believe in an idea of Russia. They are bitter about the 1991 collapse but their goal is not, as often stated, a restoration of the Soviet Union. Putin has been critical of the Bolsheviks and of Lenin/Stalin. He refers more to Imperial Russia.
Power depends on access and access has narrowed since covid. Crucial people: Sergei Lavrov, 71, foreign minister
Sergei Naryshkin, 67, foreign intelligence chief
Nikolai Patrushev, 70, secretary of Russia’s security council
Igor Sechin, 61, chief executive of Rosneft
Sergei Shoigu, 66, defence minister
The old style was Putin as ‘first among equals’. Now he humiliates some of them publicly. (I thought the most worrying aspect of that public meeting with his top people just before the war was where he humiliated his intel chief, Naryshkin. I cannot see any non-worrying explanation. Kill him, ok. Falls out a window, ok. Normal in Russia. But if you do that, everybody’s thinking — but YOU hired him so if he’s an idiot…?! Stalin whacked heads of the NKVD, but I don’t think he’d have done that. So why did it happen?)
Forget looking to the Duma for opposition.
The military has been purged by Putin. It’s unlikely to generate a successful coup. But also: if someone launches a coup, how many ‘live players’ in the military try to save him? (I’m more open to the idea of some general whacking Putin than this piece though I still think it unlikely, ~5-10% in the next year.)
There’s an important generational divide — the inner circle came of age pre-1991, their kids post-91. Interesting detail: Elizaveta Peskova, daughter of Putin’s press spokesman Dmitry Peskov, protested against the war on Instagram.
Any deal for Putin to go has to resemble the Putin-Yeltsin deal or Godfather II — you make clear family wealth will not be raided, Putin’s kids stay billinaires.
Putin’s circle have a bitter fear of chaos and the infiltration of western ideas, institutions they think generate chaos. If you look at commentary from intelligent pro-Putin Russian nationalists, they WANT sanctions, they WANT isolation, they WANT Facebook to allow threats of violence only against Russians so Facebook/Insta are banned. The dynamics of the last few weeks are seen in the west as ‘disastrous for Russia’. It’s very hard for western media and politicians to understand (and impossible to write) how some intelligent Russians can think — we want a firewall from western culture, from all your bullshit on BLM/LGBTQ+++++ etc etc.
Millions of Russian people agree with lots of what Putin says and think the 1990s collapse was a catastrophe and in many ways they’re right. It cannot be stated strongly enough that the 90s was a catastrophe. I was there, I saw it. The west contributed, partly via some naive/greedy academics, to a small circle stealing vast amounts of Russia’s wealth, while lecturing them about ‘free markets’. When Putin talks about this, everybody understands. So there is a very powerful pull towards the idea of avoiding anything similar. Also there are similar dynamics to western countries: much of the country looking at media elites in Moscow and St Petersburg are thinking ‘wankers/scum/you’re stealing my money’.
China is a powerful gravitational pull for Putin’s circle. Deng watched Gorbachev. He was determined to avoid a similar fate for China so Tianenmen. Now Putin and others look at Xi. There is a coherent alternative model: dynamic economy, military superpower, disciplined society. Again, it is impossible for western politicians to discuss that intelligent Chinese people, many of whom are extremely well-educated, have looked at the west and thought: DESPICABLE, DISGUSTING, DISASTROUS! They think our culture is a mutant virus from which they should isolate ourselves. (In Beijing they read a lot of Nietzsche and Strauss! Strauss is more studied in China than he in Europe/USA. Cf. this fascinating piece on Wang Huning, one of the crucial people in China.)
The piece does not go into economics but it’s obvious that economics supports the overall piece. China made a deal for Russian commodities before the invasion. Russia has a big plan for vast Arctic exploitation, very little covered in western media. We have done what China wanted in breaking SWIFT as a global system and applying central bank sanctions, so across the world states will draw the inevitable lessons. The west’s sanctions are hastening the end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency…
A pundit often quoted by other pundits is Bruno Macaes. I scrolled through his Twitter at the weekend. It is deranged. It is also in line with a substantial network of pundits. A lot of the US media is pushing these memes.
I love the it’s ‘genocide’ and ‘I’ve been right on everything’ conclusion.
These people want the West to attack Putin and hope either a) Putin sucks it up and does not retaliate with nuclear weapons or b) we have to suck up nuclear war — dems da breaks!
This is not a fringe view. A substantial element of the media, especially the political pundit class, agrees. ‘Putin as bad as / even worse than Hitler’ is a favourite meme. What’s the state of your head when you think what’s happening in Ukraine is as bad as / worse than Auschwitz? In a healthy culture such foolishness would have no purchase in mainstream media. In our culture it’s widespread (among the Twitter-addicted watch-politics-as-spectator-sport graduate class — not the public generally).
If a President or PM actually went along with this lunacy, they would be cheered by much of the media. If our PM thinks he has to echo it to survive, he’ll echo it and we’ll all move closer to the abyss.
Putin is less dangerous than our own idiocracy. It’s unlikely he’s in a Castro-style ‘die beautifully’ mode (Castro urged Russia to start nuclear war in 1962 and saw Cuba’s annihilation in nuclear war as a price worth paying). But our idiocracy could start a broader war.
Ideas of a patient approach that aims to de-escalate, end the war, let Russia have some gains in the east, and think long-term are increasingly shouted down by the media. Fight Russia to the last Ukrainian is very popular among graduates. Sadly I don’t see our valiant pundits closing Twitter and flying east to volunteer in the heroic defence themselves.
UKR is getting supplies from the west and using trains to transport
Russia is not bombing the train network because they want to use it (implies maximalist goals)
UKR is using civilian cars to transport weapons
Russia fires on them with the same logic as Americans/British in Iraq - you assume cars speeding towards you might kill you
Both sides have broken ‘rules of war’ and forfeit Geneva protections
Kadyrov’s shitposting on Telegram is high quality —
He also posts things like clips of his soldiers helping old women out of war zones.
RWA: ‘Only man in Russia who knows how to make propaganda lol’.
For the past 5 years I have said over and over again that literally almost everything you read about Putin’s ‘information war’ and ‘sophisticated propaganda’ is nonsense from western hacks who are either inventing stuff or are dupes.
You can see for yourselves this supposed capability does not exist. Russian communication has been so atrocious that pro-Russians think the ‘crazy’ Chechen warlord is the only Russian propaganda success.
Carole Cadwalladr’s fantasies get retweeted by celebrities across the world, ironically she and similar hacks spread so much misinformation that they’re exactly the sort of channels I would create if I worked for the KGB.
This Twitter feed is very well informed about UKR/Donbass history and what’s going on: @Peter_Nimitz
Boris survival chances
The centre of gravity in SW1 has switched to: ‘Boris is now safe again.’
I think this is an over-reaction to UKR.
I still think he will be replaced and there will be a new PM by the end of August.
No10 remains a dysfunctional farce. It cannot be anything else. It will generate constant screwups. When the media returns to the police/parties etc it will be a farce again. Plus May elections. Plus huge economic disruption requires huge changes but No10 cannot get anything useful done. I think the MPs will try to avoid acting but will probably tumble into action around May…
Zelensky survival chances
I suspect forecasting websites are reacting too much to effective UKR propaganda.
I think (80%) he’ll be gone this year, 50% by
July end April.
Much higher food prices = regime changes
European credit markets are deteriorating…
… and unless central banks get lucky, either a) there will be monetary tightening and probable recession, b) inflation stays out of control. Generally attempts at ‘soft landings’ don’t work…
AI discovers toxic compounds… V v v bad news…
Call from Professor E Cohen at Johns Hopkins for America not only to implement NFZ but then attack Russian land forces — oh, and don’t worry about nuclear weapons cos Putin’s bluffing for sure. Cohen also retweets the Bruno Macaes style fanatics screaming Hiter, genocide etc.
Also a bad sign, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is saying today on CNN re Russia forcing NATO involvement: ‘It’s not if. It’s when.”
Here’s an example of another claim he made about Russia recently. He claimed that the Hunter Biden emails were a Russian disinformation plot and the emails probably faked by Russia. A lot of the media repeated these claims because they wanted Biden to win and therefore wanted an excuse to ignore the story in the election vs Trump.
Clapper’s claim turned out to be nonsense and the Hunter Biden emails were genuine, not Russian disinformation.
A lot of these ‘national security’ people joined the frenzy over ‘Russian Collusion’ during the Trump Presidency. A lot of the media still honestly believe claims that have been disproved. A lot of them don’t care. Almost none of them face the fact that the relentless barrage of nonsense over ‘Russian Collusion’ did a lot to persuade millions of Americans that the mainstream media cannot be trusted.
It’s rare to see anybody prominent with a perspective like:
Trump was a rubbish President.
The Obama administration’s decision to direct espionage at Trump’s campaign was a very bad move, compounded by atrocious behaviour from the FBI, and would have been a massive scandal if it had been directed at someone other than Trump.
Trump lies all the time … but was often right in his complaints about media lies on Russia which were massive and demented.
Russia is a mafia state and US/UK were too weak against Putin 2000-2015.
Russia increasingly tries to interfere in western politics but…
Russian attempts to interfere in the Brexit referendum were tiny and irrelevant to the result and attempts to interfere in the Trump/Clinton election were tiny in comparison to, say, the NYT coverage of Clinton’s hidden email server.
Cadwalladr has spread massive misinformation in the guise of writing about misinformation. She never had a clue about Facebook and digital ads and the whole Cambridge Analytica/Facebook/Trump/Brexit/Putin conspiracy was a bad joke. Her fake news is now routinely retweeted by celebrities and journalists, making serious discussion impossible.
Ideas of NATO enlargement to Georgia/UKR since the 1990s were disastrous policy and are partly responsible for the UKR debacle. This was the view of many hardline Cold Warriors such as Richard Pipes.
Putin wanted UKR inside Russia regardless of the disastrous policy on NATO. You can’t reasonably say ‘without NATO’s policy of enlargement and the EU encroaching in Ukraine Putin would have left it alone’.
It would have been better to push for a prosperous, neutral UKR with long-term guarantees of no NATO or EU membership, with UKR as a buffer between NATO and Russia than to purse the path the west has which has ended with UKR getting wrecked.
It makes no sense to simultaneously fail to deal with Putin and his friends for 20 years, let London be the laundry, then suddenly start babbling about regime change in Moscow.
And so on… In elite political/media circles London and Washington now you almost have to have a gang mentality about politics. You believe half the bullets above but reject the other half as lies. If you’ve always thought Putin is mafia (like me) you can’t also think the claims of Putin winning the 2016 election for Trump are ludicrous. If you think Trump was useless (like me) you can’t also think it was a terrible error for Obama to order espionage against the Trump campaign. If you’ve thought for 20 years the UK should have been much tougher on Putin and his associated mafia (like me) you can’t also think it was a big mistake to push NATO enlargement.
Anybody who believes all the bullets above (like me) fits into no gang. This makes it impossible to see the world clearly and adjust your position as you get more information.
Eurozone share prices
Also seems China has signed a $10 billion contract with Saudi Arabia to build refineries in China to be supplied with Russian oil.
MBS is reported to have declined calls with Biden a few days ago. Boris is heading there. Boris and MBS are friends. Boris tried hard to get Newcastle United for him in 2020 and deployed stooges to push the deal through. MBS will take his calls, though it’s more likely Boris gives stuff away than gets a great deal…
Kotkin, Mearsheimer on Russia
Kotkin is a great Russian scholar who wrote a celebrated (unfinished) biography of Stalin.
He’s asked about the Kennan/Mearsheimer argument that NATO expansion was a historic blunder.
I have only the greatest respect for George Kennan. John Mearsheimer is a giant of a scholar. But I respectfully disagree. The problem with their argument is that it assumes that, had NATO not expanded, Russia wouldn’t be the same or very likely close to what it is today. What we have today in Russia is not some kind of surprise. It’s not some kind of deviation from a historical pattern. Way before NATO existed — in the nineteenth century — Russia looked like this: it had an autocrat. It had repression. It had militarism. It had suspicion of foreigners and the West. This is a Russia that we know, and it’s not a Russia that arrived yesterday or in the nineteen-nineties. It’s not a response to the actions of the West. There are internal processes in Russia that account for where we are today.
His argument that a) Russia has these deep dynamics towards autocracy, repression etc and b) Russia internally now would look pretty similar regardless of what happened with NATO over the past 25 years both seem to me clearly true.
There’s pushback from some academics complaining about his characterisation of Russian authoritarianism but I agree with him. Yes, western Europe had monarchies and imperialism in the 19th Century. But Germany, France etc were not monarchies like Russia. In the 19th Century other institutions grew in Europe. There was a lot of discussion and criticism in media which rulers felt they had to respond and adapt to, they couldn’t just close everything and arrest everybody per Moscow. And there was much greater protection of private property. In Russia, the Tsar owned the country. It was the same under Lenin/Stalin. It’s the same under Putin. As Kotkin says below, Putin doesn’t need a separate bank account, the whole country is his. This tradition and the lack of private property rights in Russia for a 1,000 years is extremely powerful.
I would even go further. I would say that NATO expansion has put us in a better place to deal with this historical pattern in Russia that we’re seeing again today. Where would we be now if Poland or the Baltic states were not in NATO? They would be in the same limbo, in the same world that Ukraine is in. In fact, Poland’s membership in NATO stiffened NATO’s spine. Unlike some of the other NATO countries, Poland has contested Russia many times over. In fact, you can argue that Russia broke its teeth twice on Poland: first in the nineteenth century, leading up to the twentieth century, and again at the end of the Soviet Union, with Solidarity. So George Kennan was an unbelievably important scholar and practitioner—the greatest Russia expert who ever lived—but I just don’t think blaming the West is the right analysis for where we are.
Re NATO, I think expanding to Poland was right. (This was unfinished business from WW2 which started with Poland’s invasion.) But Kotkin does not address the critical issue of the discussion about expansion beyond Poland/Baltics to Ukraine/Georgia etc. This is where I think the big mistake came.
He thinks Putin is now extremely isolated, surrounded by sycophants and mediocrities, and miscalculated:
Strength of Russian forces.
Chances of a fast successful strike, like Soviet special forces toppling the Afghan regime in 1979.
Ukraine forces collapsing.
Zelensky’s TV training applied to manipulating western media.
NATO and EU going as far as they have in support and sanctions.
Putin has powerful stories including ‘Russia is a great civilisation and the west wants to destroy us’.
He thinks we should focus on tech sanctions:
The biggest and most important sanctions are always about technology transfer. It’s a matter of starving them of high tech. If, over time, through the Commerce Department, you deny them American-made software, equipment, and products, which affects just about every important technology in the world, and you have a target and an enforceable mechanism for doing that, you can hurt this regime and create a technology desert.
On the progress of the war:
Ukraine is winning this war only on Twitter, not on the battlefield. They’re not winning this war. Russia is advancing very well in the south, which is an extremely valuable place because of the Black Sea littoral and the ports. They are advancing in the east. If the southern and eastern advances meet up, they will encircle and cut off the main forces of the Ukrainian Army. What’s failed so far is the Russian attempt to take Kyiv in a lightning advance. Otherwise, their war is unfolding well. It’s only a couple of weeks in; wars last much longer.
But here are some of the considerations: after three or four weeks of war, you need a strategic pause. You have to refit your armor, resupply your ammo and fuel depots, fix your planes. You have to bring in reserves. There’s always a planned pause after about three to four weeks.
If Kyiv can hold out through that pause, then potentially it could hold out for longer than that, because it can be resupplied while the Russians are being resupplied during their pause. Moreover, the largest and most important consideration is that Russia cannot successfully occupy Ukraine. They do not have the scale of forces. They do not have the number of administrators they’d need or the coöperation of the population. They don’t even have a Quisling yet.
Think about all those Ukrainians who would continue to resist. The Nazis came into Kyiv, in 1940. They grabbed all the luxury hotels, but days later those hotels started to blow up. They were booby-trapped. If you’re an administrator or a military officer in occupied Ukraine and you order a cup of tea, are you going to drink that cup of tea? Do you want to turn the ignition on in your car? Are you going to turn the light switch on in your office? All it takes is a handful of assassinations to unsettle the whole occupation.
His comments on Russian bureaucracy partly apply here:
You have to remember that these regimes practice something called “negative selection.” … They hire people who are a little bit, as they say in Russian, tupoi, not very bright. They hire them precisely because they won’t be too competent, too clever, to organize a coup against them. Putin surrounds himself with people who are maybe not the sharpest tools in the drawer on purpose… Negative selection does protect the leader, but it also undermines his regime.
Re Sun Tzu’s advice, Build your enemy a golden bridge:
That’s a brilliant quote… One option is he shatters Ukraine: if I can’t have it, nobody can have it, and he does to Ukraine what he did to Grozny or Syria. That would be an unbelievable, tragic outcome. That’s the pathway we’re on now.
Even if the Ukrainians succeed in their insurgency, in their resistance, there will be countless deaths and destruction. We need a way to avoid that kind of outcome. That would mean catalyzing a process to engage Putin in discussion with, say, the President of Finland, whom he respects and knows well, or the Israeli Prime Minister, who has been in contact with him; less probably, with the Chinese leadership, with Xi Jinping. Someone to engage him in some type of process where he doesn’t have maximalist demands and it stalls for time, for things to happen on the ground, that rearrange the picture of what he can do.
… There’s now quite a lot of worry inside the Chinese élites, but Xi Jinping is in charge and has a personal relationship with Putin. Xi has thrown in his lot with Putin. But how long that goes on depends upon whether the Europeans begin to punish the Chinese. The Europeans are their biggest trading partner.
The Chinese are watching this very closely. They’re watching (a) our intelligence penetration, (b) the mistakes of a despotism, and (c) the costs that you have to pay as the U.S. and European private companies cancel Russia up and down. Xi Jinping, who is heading for an unprecedented third term in the fall, needed this like a hole in the head. But now he owns it.
Finally, there’s another card that we’ve been trying to play: the Ukrainian resistance on the ground and our resupply of the Ukrainians in terms of arms and the sanctions. All of that could help change the calculus. Somehow, we have to keep at it with all the tools that we have — pressure but also diplomacy…
The problem now is not that the Biden Administration made mistakes; it’s that it’s hard to figure out how to de-escalate, how to get out of the spiral of mutual maximalism. We keep raising the stakes with more and more sanctions and cancellations. There is pressure on our side to “do something” because the Ukrainians are dying every day while we are sitting on the sidelines, militarily, in some ways. (Although, as I said, we’re supplying them with arms, and we’re doing a lot in cyber.) The pressure is on to be maximalist on our side, but, the more you corner them, the more there’s nothing to lose for Putin, the more he can raise the stakes, unfortunately. He has many tools that he hasn’t used that can hurt us. We need a de-escalation from the maximalist spiral, and we need a little bit of luck and good fortune, perhaps in Moscow, perhaps in Helsinki or Jerusalem, perhaps in Beijing, but certainly in Kyiv.
He does not call for no fly zones / direct conflict.
Overall very interesting from someone who really knows what he’s talking about. I wish he’d been asked about the possibility of the west aiming for a peaceful, prosperous neutral Ukraine outside NATO/EU as an alternative while we wait out Putin and try to shape what follows him.
Interesting HR question
Hurtling back into the Soviet abyss
Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist on the Novaya Gazeta (Moscow). She pursued Putin, Kadyrov, the FSB (~KGB) with extreme courage. In 2004 she wrote:
We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it's total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial - whatever our special services, Putin's guard dogs, see fit.
His people follow the reactions of society very attentively. It is completely wrong to imagine they aren’t bothered. The fact that our reaction to him and his cynical manipulation of Russia has been confined to gossiping in the kitchen has enabled him to do all the things he has done in the past four years. Society has shown limitless apathy, and this is what has given Putin the indulgence he requires. We have reacted to his actions and speeches not just lethargically but fearfully. As the Chekists [i.e KGB network around Putin] have become entrenched in power, we have let them see our fear and thereby have only intensified their urge to treat us like cattle. The KGB respects only the strong. The weak it devours. We of all people ought to know that.
In 2006 she was shot and killed while entering her flat in Moscow after many death threats, poisonings, mock executions.
The investigation was a familiar story to Moscow — some Chechens were shoved on TV and accused. The trial was a farce and fell apart. Those responsible have never been identified. This pattern has recurred many times.
The same year Litvinenko was killed in London.
Both Politkovskaya and Litvinenko had investigated the evidence that the FSB/KGB were responsible for the bombings in Moscow that Putin used as pretexts for the war in Chechnya. ‘We’ll kill them in the shithouse’, he famously said on TV of the Chechens.
I thought that we should have been much more aggressive (partly public, partly secret) about the Litvinenko assassination. I also thought there was a decent chance the ‘conspiracy theory’ was, for once, true and Putin’s network had organised the bombings.
Politkovskaya was amazingly brave in speaking out. Few in the west listened then or wanted to face the consequences of a mafia government in charge of nuclear weapons. Like normal mafia, Putin inferred from weakness that he could get away with more and more. After Putin goes an interesting test of a new regime will be — does it try seriously to root out those responsible for killing her. If no, you know roughly the same people are in charge. If yes, maybe Russia will be moving in a different direction. I’m not optimistic.
Blair is a bit right but mostly wrong
Blair is right that there is an optimal strategy that is more aggressive than the existing one and puts Putin under more pressure.
He is wrong to try to push Biden, Boris et al to seek it and do it.
They are not capable.
The upside is tiny relative to the potential downside.
I hope officials around Biden, Boris do not listen and instead focus mainly on avoiding escalation and looking for a way to end the war with Putin making some gains in the east/south and a guarantee of no NATO membership for UKR.
The best path for the world is de-escalation and providing a ‘golden bridge’, Sun Tzu style (per Kotkin above).
Rumours of fines on tech companies
Omicron lockdowns with vast numbers of elderly unvaccinated
BIG fall in Chinese tech companies
The Party’s pre-emptive move to prick the real estate bubble
Tightening of dollar supply…
Also — MBS talking to China re pricing oil in dollars…
Boris gibberish on UKR/NATO
This morning Boris is babbling that the decision on UKR joining NATO must be ‘for the Ukrainian people’.
This is extremely stupid.
This is the sort of thing you say when your thinking is dominated by media/twitter hysteria.
However much sympathy one has for UKR, whether to include them in Article 5 and nuclear tripwires is not and should not be a matter ‘for the UKR people’.
Meanwhile our idiocracy gives us a minister pushing a farce of an ‘online harms’ Bill through Parliament (guaranteed to make problems worse) who turns up for meetings with Google asking them to ban ‘algorithms’. Maybe she’ll tell the crypto people, when are you going to disprove mathematical proofs…
Lots of rumours of big commodity traders unable to pay margin calls etc. Nickel has finally reopened and immediately dropped 5% limit on LME…
Our MPs/media cannot get basics right on Vote Leave after 6 years
For the 1,000 time, Arron Banks did NOT donate to VL, he hated VL, he tried to destroy it and was 90 minutes from success in Jan 2016.
Yes there’s problems with Russian money. Yes the NCA needs more powers. Yes the Tories have let 1,000 things slide with Russia (and China).
But the way people deliberately (because of rage about Brexit) or carelessly (because they’re useless like Carole C) elide VL and Farage/Banks perpetuates huge misunderstandings. If those in charge cannot get the basics right — and they haven’t through multiple inquiries since 2016 — it’s no surprise Putin’s oligarchs tied them up in knots. Every time I speak to hacks/MPs about this you have to clear your way through a fog of misunderstanding and misinformation like this, much of which has been created by Carole C and the diehard Jolyon network. The Parliamentary inquiry on Facebook etc similarly kept confusing Vote Leave (official campaign) and ‘Leave.EU’ (Farage/Banks). This is the same media explaining covid and Putin to you…
Girolamo (interesting trader on twitter) re 1970s parallels
1970s… Deeply negative real interest rates as well as rampant inflation rates
Lots of borrowing
After passivity, Volcker whacked inflation
Lots of bubbles also collapsed, levered players blew up
Post-08, QE has encouraged huge debts & bubbles
Some players start doubting whether the debts will be repaid and start dumping debt and buying physical assets
Very likely collapse of various asset prices & financial players blowing up
Also now commodity markets going haywire and Russia default on the cards. Remember, Russia in 1998 was the trigger for the collapse of LTCM hedge fund.
Raab inadvertently misleading Commons
Yet again Raab has been given duff lines for the Commons by No10.
Re questions about the intelligence services warning the PM, Raab has said ‘sheer nonsense’.
This is false.
I know it’s false because I was in the room when the PM was told by Cabinet Office officials that the intelligence services and other parts of the deep state had, let’s say serious reservations, about the PM’s plan.
I supported these concerns and said to the PM in his study explicitly that he should not go ahead.
He was very cross and as he does when cross he blustered nonsense.
‘This is just … You’re just … [pause] ANTI-RUSSIAN!’
He did his usual trick when I told him not to do something dumb. He stopped talking to me about it and got a stooge to creep into the Cabinet Office labyrinth and cut a deal. (Just like with the gold wallpaper and illegal donations when I told him ‘it’s illegal, no I won’t help, take out a loan’.)
HOLAC (Lords appointments) was given a (I think sanitised/edited/redacted) version of these reports.
There was a handful of people in the room who were part of this discussion at least two of who would agree with my version in court.
I’m confident in predicting nobody would swear under oath the PM is telling the truth — including the PM!
This is another reminder of a crucial fact about 2019: many of us only reluctantly agreed to go to No10 to try to solve various problems because the alternative was Corbyn and a second referendum…
(Ps. I did not go into the content of the concerns nor their reliability, I had bigger fish to fry, my point is simply that No10 is lying again about what the PM was told and said, just as it has repeatedly on other issues.)
Britain and America encouraged Zelensky to reject diplomacy before the war.
It seems probable they will encourage him to hold out and keep tweeting while more get killed. The media want more blood and Boris only exists to give the media what they want. The west’s graduate-Twitter-army is happy to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian. If only our brave pundits would fly east and hurl Molotovs at tanks themselves…
the dominance of the dollar has nothing to do with the currency denomination of the price of oil (or anything else)
with a smart phone you can denominate any trade in any currency you like
what matters ultimately is how trade surpluses are recycled into assets and which countries will accept the corresponding deficits, and this has nothing to do with currency denomination
If Saudi Arabia wants to convert its huge surpluses into RMB assets rather than USD assets, in other words, and if China is willing to run the corresponding deficit, it makes no difference how the Saudis denominate the price of oil
The big story will be if and when the US one day decides it no longer wants Saudi Arabia and other surplus countries to convert their surpluses into US assets. That would be very painful for persistent surplus countries and would force a huge reorganization of global growth
Some sources on the war
@samoburja (independent analyst, tries hard to be accurate, not signaling)
@shashj (Economist defence guy)
@RALee85 (indepdendent PhD)
@LawDavF (professor of military history)
@russianforces (specialist on Soviet/Russian nukes)
@Peter_Nimitz (dunno what he is but clearly knows a lot of history of the area and reads lots of interesting stuff like weird memoirs of mercenaries who’ve been fighting there)
@paul_scharre (CSBA think tank, specialises in military tech)
@WarOnTheRocks (website with a lot of good people writing)
(Will keep adding to this list)
Example of ‘fog of war’, very different signals from US/UK vs France
My ill-informed-low-confidence hunch is that Russia will prevail in D&L, UKR forces are at risk of encirclement.
Margin calls, systemic risk…
Tooze on commodity markets. The unprecedented price moves put a lot of big players in big trouble. If they can’t pay then you have defaults rippling through the system. Global commodity markets involve an annual volume of >$700 billion plus trillions in derivatives.
LME again this morning: opened, nickel dropped the new limit, closed. At least one huge Chinese player is caught in a short position.
Other indicators. E.g SoftBank’s CDS are up and up. Lots of oil/gas companies are in trouble given sanctions. All sorts of further effects kick in - e.g as big players watch the chaos they pull back from trading thus markets become more volatile, and more players are under stress.
Wouldn’t surprise if western institutions step in to save various leveraged speculators leading to reasonable screams that ‘yet again the bankers and hedge funds get bailed out’ etc.
The private discussions of market players is totally different from the public statements, as always in crises.
Also, so far underplayed in media is the food price shock which historically topples regimes and played a big part in ‘Arab Spring’. What happens in Egypt etc when bread is unaffordable for millions? Not only is Ukraine a huge supplier but fertiliser prices have mooned.
A former foreign minister of Russia tweets —
This is a very bad interpretation but very widespread. The truth is that JFK had no idea about the near catastrophe in a Russian submarine that nearly triggered war. Cf. Arkhipov above. It is not true to portray Cuba as an example of deterrence ‘working’ because of ‘resolve’. WE WERE LUCKY AND DIDN’T REALISE AT THE TIME! Then, without knowing the full story, JFK and RFK span myths to the media which were repeated and are widely believed — ‘eyeball to eyeball’ etc.
All over Twitter you have versions of this argument and much worse in the context of NFZ propaganda. I mention this guy because he is a former foreign minister. If he has such misunderstandings it’s no surprise so many others do. (He’s doubly confused because he then says he does not support a NFZ then says he is ‘on the same page’ as Eliot Cohen, who does!)
We should have been tougher with Putin for 20 years, as I’ve said for 20 years. But the answer now is not to panic into nuclear escalation based on false historical parallels.
For up-to-date history of Cuba explaining some of the myths, read Dobbs.
This guy (who made money in the 1990s advising Yeltsin on the ‘free market’ reforms that led to the oligarchs grabbing billions) has been saying Putin = Hitler, genocide etc. Now he says US should be planning to trump tactical nuclear weapons with ‘far worse’.
As one of the experts on Soviet/Russian nukes says:
The most important thing the UK can do in this war is NOT ‘help Ukraine’, it is ‘help avoid nuclear eascalation’. Yes this means Putin can get away with killing many and repression in Russia. This is better than killing hundreds of millions and destroying civilisation across Eurasia and North America. We lived with this reality for decades. We didn’t impose a NFZ over Hungary or Prague or Afghanistan. And even despite a lot of care, we came much closer to disaster than realised at the time. We now know this. It should make us MUCH MORE CAREFUL. Instead our idiocracy means we are increasingly battered by people saying patience is intolerable…
Is anybody aware of serious translation (ideally with expert commentary explaining nuances) of Chinese state TV news re UKR in English so we can see what the PRC is pushing? Seems our entire UK/US legacy media cannot provide such basic stuff?
Good news: idiocracy attention spans slipping
UK newspapers are losing money from war, sales down all over.
Lobby are visibly getting a bit bored — not enough action now, ‘it’s the same story for days!’ They need chemical weapons or something to make it more exciting. They are visibly starting to cast around for other stories to babble crap about.
On one hand, this is laughably bad given the seriousness of events.
But I am very happy! The more bored the lobby are the better. Less chance of our idiocracy blundering into escalation. Knowing Westminster as I do, the less I want our PM talking about nuclear weapons around the same table with some of the same people with the same totally joke processes as we saw collapse on covid.
The media get more bored.
Serious negotiations start in a few weeks with Russia making enough gains for the situation to cool, UKR writes into constitution ‘never NATO’ etc.
We do regime change here by August.
The new regime finally, after quarter of a century, starts taking issues like nuclear weapons, Russia, China seriously. Revives the agenda we started in 2020 including blowing up MoD procurement.
We can avoid Biden v Trump 2…
As he says, it would repeat the hideous errors of summer 1914 with nuclear powers.
If you have friends or family misled by media to think this is a good idea, send them this video and ask: do you think it’s worth taking a significant risk of hundreds of millions killed in nuclear war and a nuclear winter causing famine across the world in order to stop Russia taking some of a country that has off/on been part of Russia for centuries?
NB. most of the killing by Russia is from artillery not planes. Even if you imposed a NFZ and thought ‘to hell with it, let’s risk nuclear war’, you would still not do much to stop killing. Our abysmal pundits calling for a NFZ know as much about this as they did about epidemiology in February 2020.
Ps. the pundits who are terrible at interpreting polls in their own country and language (cf. Brexit, Trump) are happily opining on ‘what Russians really think’, i.e an alphabet not 1:100 can even read. As you’d expect, much of it is like ‘my [English-speaking graduate] friends in Moscow say Putin’s a total nightmare we’re really depressed’.
Chechens v Nazis?
Kadyrov has posted video purporting to be of his Chechens in Mariupol shouting Allahu Akbar as they whack, on behalf of Putin, some of the Azov battalion fighting on behalf of Ukraine — Azov are the guys who the NYT et al used to describe as ‘Nazi’ but have rebranded to ‘Ukrainian national guard’ (cos Ukraine are the goodies and goodies can’t be Nazis).
Are we supposed to cheer for the Nazis and boo the Muslims, or other way round? Super-confusing!
The collapse of media standards means the only sensible approach to most news on Ukraine can only be to ignore it (for most people) or triangulate among multiple independent sources with a record of trying/being accurate rather than moral-signalling (if you need to figure out what’s happening). See above for a handful of sources.
Taiwan next for our pundit army
Our pundits of course are onto campaigning for nuclear brinkmanship over Taiwan next. They are never happier than when campaigning for war, though they rarely pay attention to key issues like military procurement between the wars, or why the wars turn out to be shitshows and our leaders clueless. Many pundits will join this chorus bringing their expertise on epidemiology and Russia-Ukraine history to China-Taiwan history…
And there’s increasing noise about how ‘if China doesn’t join our sanctions against Russia we must … sanction China too, or else Putler will be able to sell his oil’!! Doubtless the campaign will also turn on India when our glorious pundit army realises that India too is saying ‘western sanctions go fuck yourself’.
Our idiocracy is enjoying itself. No need to get our own act together when we can indulge in tantrums — the media is very happy with this approach, except for the annoying fact that the public is switching off from the show and newspaper sales are well down.
On that happy note…
I’m going to make this post public to all shortly and create another for subscribers only, then every 7-14 days roll them over. I’m much happier doing this than posting to Twitter bedlam…