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  1. WWIII

    I didn't say Russia's power would crumble, I said Putin's is at risk. He's gambled a lot on this, and will have a hard time spinning the story if / when Ukraine re-takes the East (but not Crimea).
  2. WWIII

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-20/russian-billionaires-in-horror-as-putin-risks-isolation.html Putin's domestic power base is crumbling. He runs a delicate balance using oligarch money and power to buy the support of the people, sometimes using the oligarchs as scapegoats to gain popular support. But if the oligarchs bail, Putin is finished. Their media outlets control what is said in Russia, and their oil pipelines provide the bribes necessary to keep Putin's political machine going. That's one of the primary reasons Putin put in place rules just this past year requiring / encouraging Russian oligarchs to move their assets back into Russia, and instituted controls on capital outflows to prevent his billionaire support network from hedging its risk by moving their rubles overseas, beyond Russia's reach. Foreign Affairs thinks that Putin should say the rebels did it, castigate them for it, and use that as an excuse to exit this war he cannot win. Otherwise he'll end up with an increasingly unpopular war (70% of Russians are against direct intervention, according to recent polls) and that will sap his support.
  3. WWIII

    Russia will reduce the arms it is shipping to separatists (which it has already basically given up on anyway, Ukraine has been quietly winning the war for Eastern Ukraine for about a month now) and, other than that, nothing will happen. Ukraine will re-occupy everything except Crimea. The best case for the fallout of this disaster is Putin admitting that the pro-russian separatists did it, but don't expect that to happen, especially since Moscow has the black box. Also, the remarkable strengthening of US (and soon to follow EU) sanctions against select Russian businesses and people will have a tremendous, tremendous effect. Those sanctions were announced just before the airline got shot down, and they will have more of an impact, guaranteed. Rosneft, which basically functions as the primary means for Putin to profit from and pay off various oligarchs, was added to the Treasury's list of companies forbidden from transacting any business in dollars, anywhere. That's a $80 billion company, doing business everywhere around the world, which suddenly can't even convert rubles to dollars, issue more bonds in dollars (and who wants anything else?), make payments on bonds it has already issued in the US, or buy dollar-denominated hedges against currency fluctuations. That is fucking gigantic, and I cannot express that strongly enough. When the EU joins the sanctions - and all signs are that they will - expect things to come to a rapid conclusion, or expect Russia to start having some pretty severe currency problems come winter, when Rosneft shipments to Europe are (hopefully, and depending on the agreement between EU and US) stopped. The thing keeping Russia afloat right now is oil and natural gas money. Those sources lubricate the corruption endemic to power in Russia - Putin is at the top of that pyramid - and if those sources dry up or drop in value, Putin's hold on power goes away. If he can't pay off competing domestic political powers or antagonistic oligarchs, he's finished.
  4. Hmm I forgot to check these forums. Cat, your assessment of Obama in Iraq is very interesting. In foreign policy academia, it has been fashionable for about ten years to make comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam because there are so, so many similarities between the two. A complete lack of planning beyond the military. An unstable political situation. A population which doesn't get along. A lack of defined goals. etc etc. But you just hit the head on another one: When Nixon pulled out, people accused him of "cutting and running" and then, not long after the South signed the cease fire with the North, the NVC just steamrolled through South Vietnam with ease. Nixon / Kissinger considered launching airstrikes, but concluded that the public's will for further intervention had been completely sapped, and they were further unsure where that would lead: If the airstrikes are ineffective, then what? What are our goals here, exactly? To stop an intercine conflict? Nixon / Kissinger concluded that there was nothing they could do, and let it go. Some problems do not have answers, and most of the solutions being bandied about right now are more concerned with appearing to do something than actually having a sound strategy behind them. ISIS is succeeding because Maliki is an incompetent leader (fun fact, right now I'm writing a research paper on the US decision to back a coup against South Vietnamese president Diem in 1963, who was also quite incompetent, and was being blamed for the lack of early US military success. They replaced him, got a series of military dictatorships, the population came to distrust their government and defections to the north increased. And now there are press conferences about replacing Malicki. The Iraq-Vietnam comparisons are infinite.). Our military cannot transform Malacki into a competent leader. I also very much doubt we are capable of finding a suitable replacement - our track record on understanding Iraqi politics is pretty shit - and I don't think that we want to be in that position anyway. So as the Iraqi military fades away into the desert in the face of a few thousand, airplane-less extremists, what should we do? if the problem is Maliki - and I think it is - then what's the solution? Cruise missiles won't fix it, neither will airstrikes or troops on the ground, and we are not qualified to pick his successor - nor should we, if Iraq is to become a democracy. Any US intervention makes future escalation due to circumstance very likely. And nobody wants an Iraq 3. We should do nothing. Iraq will stand on its own and repel the extremists or it will splinter into three states which will probably fight each other for years. This problem is beyond our capability for fixing and we need to recognize that, in Iraq, we're done. Side note - there is an interesting development in the Kurdish-held north. The Kurds, by the way, fought off ISIS from Kirkuk [which says something about the feeble state of the Iraqi army] and are now consolidating power in the oil-rich areas there. They struck a deal with Turkey to ship Kurdish oil to Turkish ports, where it is then loaded on tankers. Iraq and the US have warned everyone they can find that buying the Kurdish oil is illegal and will result in problems - because the oil should be Iraqi oil, basically some self-starters have arbitrarily seized an Iraqi oil field. As a result, there are two oil tankers floating around the Med right now waiting, hoping for a buyer and a place to dock. Last I heard, our best friends ever Israel were going to buy the 1 million barrels one of the two ships holds, in no small part because the Kurds offered it at half off and Israel likes the idea of a splintered Iraq. State legitimacy from oil sales. Brave new world.
  5. Official Movie Discussion Thread

    Just saw this, and fully agree. Also keep in mind when it was released - early 1964, meaning it was written at least a few years before that - and think about how impressive it is that someone came to this conclusion about MAD some 20-30 years before that opinion became mainstream. He basically lampooned US foreign policy for the next 25 years. It's seriously impressive how prescient and direct the observations in that movie are. It is such a heavily-referenced movie, it's probably up with the graduate in terms of the number of pop culture references which most viewers probably miss. And the quotes. Oh, the quotes. "You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"
  6. WWIII

    I have read a fair amount about this, and the other day a former Congressman who used to be on the foreign relations committee in the House came to my class and gave his take. Basically, he thinks it is our fault, and traces the genesis of it back to Russia's 1998 default. In 1998, Russia fell into economic difficulty (our ever-present favorite bankers Goldman Sachs had a fair amount to do with it, I will also add). Russia sought advice on how to deal with their problems, and the US / IMF provided it. It was shitty advice, and Russia defaulted. At the time, US politicians (most notably Dick Cheney) came out and said various things to the effect of "we should finish them off while they're down," which led to the more paranoid of Russians (Putin) to conclude that the US had purposefully sabotaged Russia, keeping them from their rightful place in the world. This paranoia mixed in with American ignorance of Russian viewpoints. Russia has traditionally viewed geography as its primary defense - both Hitler and Napoleon exhausted themselves by having to conquer vast amounts of territory before getting to anything that mattered, thinning their strength and rendering them weak until they were defeated. As part of this defensive plan, Russia has traditionally included the countries to its west in the former USSR as buffer zones between it and its enemies. Beginning in the 1990s but accelerating quickly thereafter, NATO began expanding into areas that were traditionally dominated by Russia - the Baltic states especially, but also around the Black Sea. In short, before the Ukranian situation, Russia already thought that the West was gunning for it both economically and via NATO / the EU. Ukraine, in turn, is a uniquely important country in the Russian psyche. Ukraine and Russia have long shared similar culture and traditions. Stalin was from Ukraine, as was Kruschev. The Crimea was part of Russia for several hundred years until Kruschev turned it over to Ukraine in an administrative reshuffling in 1954. Ukraine is vast, and was the breadbasket of the USSR. It also sits very close to Moscow, and other important parts of Southern Russia. It is far, far more important to Russia than it is to the West, which is why they reacted so severely when it seemed likely that Ukraine would join the West's sphere of influence. So, when Ukraine underwent revolution, there were fears by Russia that Ukraine would slip into the zone of influence in the West, making Russia even more vulnerable. The former PM was very pro-Russian, and when the revolutionaries kicked him out, they made a few key mistakes. Among other things, they proposed banning Russian as a second official language (when a large majority of Eastern Ukraine only speaks Russian in daily life). This led to those people wanting out of Ukraine, which provided the justification for Russia to enter. If we had paid more attention to how Russia thinks, we would have known that expanding NATO closer and closer to Russia becomes more and more threatening to them. A lack of diplomacy, along with the rapid expansion of the EU and NATO eastward, made the situation worse. Then Ukraine revolted and put them under even more threat. Add in the dynamics of how Russia is ruled by Putin - economic growth has stalled, corruption is on the rise, and the only thing he really has left to justify his hold on power is rising prestige due to international affairs - and you have what happened in Crimea. Personally I think how things are is how they're going to stay. Ukraine has mobilized since the Crimea annexation, so the costs of further invasion have increased for Russia. Ukraine was in complete turmoil and didn't have a government when the first Russian troops walked into Crimea unopposed; they will not be that lucky next time. Furthermore, the threat of significant sanctions has now been raised as punishment for future aggression, and given how some 30-40% of Russian GDP is based on exports of natural gas and oil, they have a lot to lose on that front too. The other thing I'd like to add is an understanding of how Putin's hold on Russia works. After the USSR collapse, Russia was overrun by newly-minted oligarchs, who were typically former managers of USSR-era steel and oil extraction firms. They kept control of their companies, then took advantage of the economic chaos and regulatory arbitrage to make themselves ridiculously wealthy in a very short period of time. Yeltsin was in bed with these oligarchs, who provided him the money required to win elections. Putin came to power after Yeltsin appointed him to President in 1999; by then the corruption was endemic and being widely reported, creating populist outrage. Putin, as part of his political calculus, claimed to be fighting corruption but really wasn't. He's just as corrupt as anyone who preceded them. A safe rule to assume is that any billionaire Russian has deep and intricate ties to Putin. Continuing bravely on. Russia had great economic growth thanks to rising prices of natural gas and oil during the 2000s, so Putin could claim that as a reason for his continued hold on power. But economic growth has stalled since 2010. Domestically, Putin's failure to adequately combat corruption made it necessary for him to censor the press and dominate media outlets - it's cheaper to do that than it is to bite the hand that feeds him (the oligarchs). The main thing Putin has left going for him, in terms of popular support, is his culture war against anti-religious and pro-gay activists [say, that sounds familiar], along with foreign affairs. If he let Ukraine fall into the EU / NATO without a fight, then he would appear weak and would have much less to justify his hold on power. So, mixed in with the foreign affairs / security fear angle, Putin himself basically had to do what he did to keep himself in power. He basically didn't have a choice.
  7. Touchy TSA

    Go find his prediction on how a split Congress would result in a better bipartisan compromise era, and then we can all truly laugh.
  8. Swords & Potions 2

    'VDisTasty' is his name in-game, try messaging him. He's logged into the game today, and sent me an invite 2-3 days ago. Can anyone make me an elven flute? I have gone with blacksmith and carpenter, and both are making ~lvl6-7 items. Can repay you in one of those items.
  9. Swords & Potions 2

    im playing it, i think they are too?
  10. Silk road finally taken down

    You're expecting a large number of people to have an extremely pessimistic view of their future, and furthermore to expect them to be financially savvy enough to not only maximize their student loans (it would be very, very hard to actually have 6 figures worth of student loan money) but then to put it all in bitcoin, which may or may not retain value. You'd be better off buying gold with the cash. At least your downside risk is far smaller.
  11. Silk road finally taken down

    But they are risking something - their credit score. Employers take that into consideration, and so do many other important players in your financial future. And it's all for a short-term gain in the low six figures. I don't think it makes sense. And yeah TP that was a provocative statement, but if you've read the stuff that the pro-BTC people write, you'd know what I mean.
  12. Silk road finally taken down

    It's one thing to get hardship and other repayment options - that is easy, yes. You just have to prove it by verifying your tax records. I get your argument for that. There are still downsides: Deferment is only 3 years maximum, and you're basically promising to never hold a real job for the 10-20 years you'll be making "minimum payments" while working under the table. Then there's the 4-5 years you're going to spend arguing that you can't find employment, will never find employment (despite your excessively expensive degree), and need to declare bankruptcy as a result. At any point in this timeline, bitcoin can lose all its value, the government can change the way it handles loans, you might want an actually-legitimate job, or you might lose your bankruptcy hearing. And you're risking all those things, which are well beyond your control, for instant access to a low-six figure sum. Risk:reward on this just does not work. But what you were saying is that you'd get loan forgiveness. That takes place via bankruptcy and would involve a series of hearings. The Feds know how much money they've paid you as opposed to the school, and they will want some kind of accounting if they notice a $150k discrepancy while you suddenly claim destitution. Getting excess student loans and putting them in bitcoins is a short-sighted, extremely risky maneuver. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. BTC acolytes are, by and large, entirely ignorant of all things economic and financial - don't be swayed.
  13. Silk road finally taken down

    First of all, it's not easy to buy groceries solely with bitcoin. Second, you still have to pay rent. Repayment plans are a lot different than forgiveness. You're underestimating how difficult these loans can be.
  14. Silk road finally taken down

    Despite your pdf, it is not easy to get rid of student loans. Employment hardship earns you a year's reprieve - not a permanent forgiveness of all debts. And, again, you're assuming that bitcoin stays at the same price level or higher. The process to get student loans discharged takes years - I would expect around 4-5 - so basically you're gambling that bitcoin doesn't lose value and you're gambling that your attempt at getting your loans dismissed is successful. Your chances at bitcoin I'd put at like 20-30%, and your chances of the student loans getting dismissed about the same. And at the same time, during your discharge process, you can't really access your bitcoins, as this source of income would be noticed during bankruptcy proceedings. And, at some point, you'd have to provide an accounting as to where your loan money went anyway (when the school reports you paid them $50k but you ahve $250k in loans, somebody in the hearings will notice). Which lowers your chances of getting your loans dismissed. The risk here, both on getting loans dismissed and on bitcoin retaining value, is extremely high.