Assorted links


I expect to see more comments on these important links.

I estimate 30 comments before day's end.

The real prize, though, would be India. Northern India is sunny. The power grid struggles to provide enough electricity to meet the daytime and early evening peak. India is now rolling out Time-of-Day pricing to residential customers (most commercial customers already have it.)

Wait a minute. People pay for electricity in India? Since when?

The 3rd World leading the 1st in marginal pricing of electricity! Here in the Philippines I've seen another innovation in the shantytowns: they place infra-red remotely readable electric meters high up on telephone poles, where they can be read en masse by the meter readers using IR readers and cannot be tampered with. At night they glow in the dark. Still, Manila electricity is expensive because of theft.

Starting around 2003 or so? Currently only rural indians get large subsidies for grid electricity and electricity theft has been greatly reduced. Some of this success in reducing electricity theft has been achieved by throwing people in jail

#1: Salon put out a piece arguing that we shouldn't criticize the Kazakhstani president's 97% re-election victory, and that it is WE Westerners who could learn a thing or two about elections. I now wonder if Salon is a big giant trolling operation.

#2: "We have an app" is the 2010s equivalent of "______ is now!" So many of these businesses have a model that just seems like "Yuppies overpay us to do basic tasks for them, but we have an app so we're a tech company."

#3: Grantham has been declaring that the end of industrial civilization is nigh, thanks to global resource depletion, so get into commodities. Oops!!

#4: "hehe" and "hehehe" disturb me because in my head they get pronounced as "hee hee" and "hee hee hee" when I read them.

#5: Funny how cops' political protections are maintained by an unholy alliance of law-and-order conservatives on the right and pro-union liberals.

#6: Ramez Naam is great.

Wow I commented on everything.

Nice, but I was still first. It's always easier to make one line replies, and I notice all the Great Men do that.

#3 - I agree with Grantham, but from an investment point of view this is especially true, as he says: "Please remember that this is my personal reading of the Fed’s impact. Our dismal 7-Year Forecasts speak for themselves in terms of longer-term risks and return." hehehe hahaha hohoho

lol, you're my favorite quasi-troll. I mean that sincerely.

#5: Funny how cops’ political protections are maintained by an unholy alliance of law-and-order conservatives on the right and pro-union liberals.

I'm sure the liberals have intellectual whipalsh. Racist cops! BUT .... UNIONS! But Racist COPS! But UNIONS! AAAAAAAAA!!!

I don't see how being pro-union and anti police brutality are conflicting views.

I'd like to see all workers who work a 40 hour workweek be able to afford: food, shelter, clothing, effective transportation, and basic healthcare. Strong unions are the easiest way to achieve this; with the least amount of government intervention. Which is why I don't understand why more rightwing commenters don't support them.

That is a totally separate issue from whether police should have sovereign immunity during the course of their duties when they commit: aggravated assault, battery, murder, etc. Personally I think that they shouldn't.

Yes sometimes [although rarely] unions can work against the public interest. So can businesses [much less rarely] and government entities. So what exactly is your point?

Mike Hunter May 1, 2015 at 3:35 pm

I don’t see how being pro-union and anti police brutality are conflicting views.

Interesting. Get out more.

I’d like to see all workers who work a 40 hour workweek be able to afford: food, shelter, clothing, effective transportation, and basic healthcare. Strong unions are the easiest way to achieve this; with the least amount of government intervention. Which is why I don’t understand why more rightwing commenters don’t support them.

Unions do not achieve that. At best Unions benefit their members at the expense of someone else. If they are denying other people jobs and pushing up prices, they are just pushing the underclass down. It is literally a zero sum game. What you mean is that you support giving White working class people benefits at the expense of the Black underclass. Unions do not add value.

Yes sometimes [although rarely] unions can work against the public interest. So can businesses [much less rarely] and government entities. So what exactly is your point?

Every Union is working against the public interest. By definition a public sector Union is working against the public interest. That is why they defend incompetent and abusive teachers as well as incompetent and abusive policemen. Roosevelt was right - they should be banned.

"Interesting. Get out more."

Was that supposed to be an argument?

"Unions do not achieve that. At best Unions benefit their members at the expense of someone else. If they are denying other people jobs and pushing up prices, they are just pushing the underclass down. It is literally a zero sum game. What you mean is that you support giving White working class people benefits at the expense of the Black underclass. Unions do not add value."

Yes that's why Belgium which has 55% union penetration is such a socialist hell scape! LMAO! The only one bringing up race here is you. Like most racists' you can't stop talking about it. Yes unions can reduce employment. But most people would rather have: safe, decent paying jobs, with management that is to forced to treat them with dignity even if it means that there are slightly less jobs available. If unions don't add value then why do workers choose to establish them?

"Every Union is working against the public interest. By definition a public sector Union is working against the public interest. That is why they defend incompetent and abusive teachers as well as incompetent and abusive policemen. Roosevelt was right – they should be banned."

Yeah who needs the pesky 1st amendment anyway. Incompetent or abusive unionized workers can be and are fired. It's not as hard to fire them if they're under a union contract as people make it out to be. Under most union contracts you just have to warn them first, then provide a reason for firing them if they keep screwing up; instead of being able to fire them for any reason or no reason at all. Obviously if a cop is caught cracking someones skull open for no reason then union protections are irrelevant; as long as he's prosecuted like everyone else.

Is Belgium really your best example. Belgium was one of the most industrialized countries in Europe with the largest concentration of railway lines for much of the late 1800s. It's now basically a post-industrial service economy relying on it's good fortune to be the location of the EU and NATO. The dynamic regions of Belgian are almost all located in the less unionized Flemish regions.

Mike Hunter May 2, 2015 at 8:12 am

Yes that’s why Belgium which has 55% union penetration is such a socialist hell scape!

What is Belgium's youth unemployment rate? In America Unions benefit those inside at the expense of those outside - that is, Whites over Blacks. In Europe it is the young losing out to the old.

Yes unions can reduce employment. But most people would rather have: safe, decent paying jobs, with management that is to forced to treat them with dignity even if it means that there are slightly less jobs available. If unions don’t add value then why do workers choose to establish them?

How do you know what most people would like? It sounds like the sort of thing someone with a nice unionized job might say. Unions impose arcane regulations but that just makes job worse. It just encourages people to be complete sh!ts behind a tick-box approach to management. That is why the DMV is such a vile place to work.

Workers choose them because they want to be paid more even if someone else is screwed and they don't want to be fired for utter incompetence.

Yeah who needs the pesky 1st amendment anyway. Incompetent or abusive unionized workers can be and are fired. It’s not as hard to fire them if they’re under a union contract as people make it out to be.

Unions have nothing to do with the First amendment. In theory they can but it is next to impossible to do so. You can sexually assault children, come to work drunk, not come to work at all, and still work as a teacher in the NY system. The Union is there to protect their own, not the public.

Obviously if a cop is caught cracking someones skull open for no reason then union protections are irrelevant; as long as he’s prosecuted like everyone else

Except he is not prosecuted like everyone else. Police are becoming a law unto themselves. Partly because the voters want law and order but also because the Union and their rules make firing policemen so hard. The stronger Unions are, the more police brutality, the fewer policemen are fired for it.

This point of view would be great if unionism didn't basically require government intervention to prop it up. Unionism in America's strength is almost entirely correlated with the level of support the government is willing to grant unions to control access to jobs through closed shops. America doesn't have the kind of hierarchial society in which unions can emerge organically to mediate between the various classes. It's unfortunate that guilded age magnets were given the ability to derail Union organizing with violence, but unionism in the USA can't survive even in a climate devoid of that kind of employer malfeasance. It needs card check and other government cronyism to survive.

1 that was fucking awful. She doesn't understand anything about Kazakhstan. For a start not that many people speak English so there is little need to censor internet stories from Time magazine. The press is actually tightly controlled, tv stations, newspapers, blogs that don't tow the line are forcibly closed and persistent journalists are murdered. Internet sites in Kazakh and Russian are often blocked. I agree another Bush-Clinton contest is stupid and reflects a serious problem but her reflexive anti-Americanism leads her down the path of being yet another minor league Walter Duranty.

Second part of Stephen F. Cohen's interview:
Hm. This is what Putin said (1:50 mark): Prezhde vsego sledovat' preeznat' -ee ob etom ya oozhe govoreel-, chto kroosheneeye sovetskovo soyuza- bilo kroopneysheye geopoleeteecheskoye katastrofoy veka.

"First it follows to admit -and about this I already talked-, that the collapse of the Soviet Union- was the largest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."

Yes, I'm too lazy to learn to type in Cyrillic. Bear with me. It depends on the meaning of "kroopneysheye" ("largest") -it could certainly mean "the largest". In fact, I'm pretty certain it does mean "the largest". It certainly does not have a clear meaning of "one of the largest".

I fail to see what is controversial about this remark. You have to try very hard not to see how the collapse of the Soviet Union was ruinous for large segments of the population(for all countries in the 90s'). Note that Ukraine has still not attained the Soviet GDP peak and at this rate may as well never.

And they all seem anxious to go back to the soviet system.

Most Russians realize going back is infeasible, but most also prefer central planning to the present system:

The two World Wars come very close, though, and probably surpass it. Yes, the collapse of the USSR was quite catastrophic for those who lived under it; the depression in the former USSR rivaled that in the U.S. and Canada in the 1930s. But the World Wars were worse, still.

Chris Geary May 1, 2015 at 6:56 pm

I fail to see what is controversial about this remark.

That is a problem. But you know what was a bigger disaster than the collapse of Communism? The imposition of Communism. Not even the two world wars put together did as much damage to the Soviet Union as Communism did. The greatest disaster of the 20th century was not the end of Communism, but the imposition of it. Anywhere.

#1. I always wondered what ever happened to Stephen Cohen, Back in the 80's and early 90's he used to be on TV all the time. After the Soviet Russia broke up and settled down, he disappeared - along with all those Russian/Cold War Studies departments that used to be a part of college political science departments.

Oh, he's still around, now as our preeminent Putin worshiper:

"pre-eminent'? Naah. The pre-eminent are alt-right opinion-mongers.

Spanish kids write jeje; maybe that's where hehe came from.

Upon reading Jeremy Grantham, I am left with the simple question, where is there a Bull Market? China appears to moving full speed towards the Japan of the 1980s (and in 2024 they start the Japan lost decade) and really does not need foreign investment. (That and several South America will be complete debt with China as well.) India rupee appears back on track but I don't see much deregulation of the retail (which will be necessary and I don't know if Modi will pursue this.) The Middle East is a mess and even oil will probably stay under $80 for another 12 - 18 months.

Secondly, is there going to be a huge issue of feeding the population high point of 9B. Considering the developed world is admist a huge (and growing) Baby Bust, India birth rate is falling and even with more freedoms I don't see a big Chinese change in birth rate. So I don't see doom there but think the Japanese family formation problems to bigger long term issue.

Grantham is a doddering old fool. Why does Tyler link to him? I can only assume because he doesn't know a lot about finance and investing.

Here's someone who does (and who turned the phrase "return-free risk" with respect to bonds three long years ago, well before GMO caught the scent):

"where is there a Bull Market?" There will be in an Independent Scotland. Yes, sirree. Just you wait and see. The success of its financial services and oil&gas industries guarantees it. Oh yes. Och aye.

I'm glad to see someone is trying to quantify the Tesla battery's economics instead of blindly hopping on the 'sunlight is free' bandwagon. But Naam's article strangely omits the cost of the solar panels themselves when he calculates the effective price per kwh. Sure the panels are getting cheaper, but I would think in the typical residential scenario the homeowner will be paying as much for the panels (and installation) as they will for the Tesla battery.

I would love to see Musk's vision of distributed power generation become a reality, but I'm really skeptical at this point. If (using Naam's numbers), someone came to my door and said, "Here, I'll sell you a $3000 battery and $2000 worth of solar panels, add another $1000 for installation, and you'll save 150 dollars per year in electricity," I'd say, "Do I look that stupid?"

One of the reasons he doesn't include it is contained in the section on day-night rate arbitrage. If the battery cost drops below $0.17 kwh ($0.19 night-day differential*90% efficiency = $0.171), then people will just use them to get a reduced power cost anyway, no solar panels needed.

Also, since many electric utilities have this pricing differential, if you are optimizing your electricity bill, not you carbon use, it might be better to have a very small solar panel (for base load in your empty house during the day) and use the battery (charged with cheap energy at night) to fill in the intermittent loads and varying solar output. If your house's average load during the middle of the day is 750 W, a 1 KW solar panel on Amazon is $2000. Not very expensive including the 30 year life and self install.

Yeah, although the $10K hospital bill for falling off your roof while trying to install the panel does make it a little pricier.

And yet this "day-night" arbitrage would likely be disrupted by availability of low-cost electric power storage, as availability of such storage would shift demand away from times when power was costly toward times when it was not.

That is, the availability of low-cost storage would produce a new equilibrium between peak and off-peak pricing, with a smaller difference between the two.

Yay, my area of expertise!

Okay, so a couple of "the cow is a perfect sphere in a vacuum" assumptions to make this easier. You are in an area with Time of Use pricing available. You have just an on peak and an off peak. On peak is the whole time that your solar will be working. Weekends are off peak. The battery stores electricity perfectly. Your purchasing power agreement/feed in tariff is exactly equal to the retail rate of electricity. There is no demand charge.

This means you should just fill the battery up during every off peak and sell it during the on peak; your day-night arbitrage. The only time that a solar panel would make a difference is that you get some free electricity on the weekend, let's say equal to one full charge (as that's all you can store). So if you have the panels for 30 years, that's 52*30 free charges, so 1560 full charges. If that covers the cost of the battery after adjusting for NPV, then it's a good buy.

Of course, then we have to deal with the duck curve (basically that as we add on more solar, it's marginal value drops due to only being available at the same time as the rest of the solar and eventually effectively inverting on and off peak pricing).

Then people will buy the batteries and trade power until the price drops down to make the batteries revenue neutral. This won't happen because you'll see industrial sized storage first and just change usage fees to demand + fixed charges (as is already beginning to occur in the Southwest) however, as that's what you'll really be paying for

"This won’t happen because you’ll see industrial sized storage first"

Bingo! The battery might well be used to avoid power disruptions, but the arbitrage will only exist in cases where government mandates require it.

Thanks, yes. Much though I love expensive DIY projects, outside of crowded areas with excellent sun it's hard to see why it's ever gonna be more efficient to be doing storage and generation at the scale of the individual house. Utilities already have substations and mgt and technical expertise.

You install something like this, you have to maintain it and deal with whatever goes wrong.

#4. Heh.

I've seen "hehehe" for decades, and to this day, I still hear it as the Beavis and Butthead laugh.


That's what I thought it was meant to be.

3. Driving up asset prices to create a wealth effect in order to achieve sustainable economic growth may appeal to those who own the assets (thank you very much), but it's a fool's policy, for all it does is take us right back to where we were in 1929, 2000, and 2007. Of course, the irony is that the critics of this policy, the Fed policy, is that resistance to fiscal stimulus from those same critics left monetary stimulus as the only game in town. The critics of the Fed policy aren't just their own worst enemy, they are everyone's worst enemy (other than the owners of the inflated assets who have the good judgment, or plain luck, to get out before the fall).

"(thank you very much)" . Unless you are liquidating your assets at today's prices, why are you thanking anyone?

Very little understanding in your comment. As an investor, I have decided that the general cluelessness around the stock market is a good thing for me.

The thank you very much is a pretty transparently laughable rhetorical attempt to claim that he's some kind of fat cat with a heart rather than just a bitter old guy with no money. But sure he definitely comes on here everyday to fight against his own interests.

Likely, nothing good will come of it.

It truly is a fool's policy. Negative/zero interest rates: be afraid. Be very afraid.

The so-called bond bubble (they keep high bond prices by keeping low interest rates) may be reminiscent of Fed policy in the run-up to the 2008 debacle, which also was to keep market rates low.

Louis Hyman, assistant professor of history at Cornell, "Policy makers in the late 1960s and early '70s confused the cause of prosperity (good jobs) with its symptom (homeownership)." Asset misallocation: “billions invested in mortgages was money not invested in business.” Today, "we kept doing the same - finding new ways to funnel money into housing, bonds, stocks while doing little to put it into small-business growth," which would "benefit not only the owners and the lenders, but all of us."

in the run-up to the 2008 debacle, which also was to keep market rates low.

Monetary screws were tightened from the fall of 2004 to the summer of 2007.


#6 Anyone buying a PowerWall in the US for domestic power pricing arbitrage is a fool. If you are getting it for power backup, why don't you already have a generator?

Still, there are probably enough fools + people who will legitimately benefit for Tesla to make money here.

This winter, many people in the Northeast discovered that their emergency backup home generator wasn't really meant to be left un-run for years. I'd trust a battery you use everyday far more than a generator waiting outside for an emergency.

But yeah, the arbitrage thing strikes me as unlikely to be workable.

It seems like home battery packs are a technology that becomes a lot more valuable when you have intermittent or badly maintained power infrastructure, like in third world countries and places serviced by Pepco.

This thing is ten times the cost of a generator. You could ask Amazon to send you a new one each October and come out ahead.

On energy billing, I just checked out my utility, and it turns out I have two kinds of ToU billing available to me:

One charges me a twice as much for each kWh used during "peak time" than "non-peak time."

The other charges me a pretty low rate per KWh, but (during summer) $7.77 for the peak kilowatts I demand each month, averaged over a half-hour. So the trick there is something like a) don't let AC run for more than 20 minutes per half-hour, and/or b) don't run anything major while the AC is running.

"This thing is ten times the cost of a generator. You could ask Amazon to send you a new one each October and come out ahead."

Yeah, but nobody does this. I'm not saying the battery pack is a smart purchase decision - it looks like it's marketed to suckers - but it would probably be a more reliable backup for short power disruptions than generators as typically installed.

When I worked in a business that actually cared about reliable power, we exercised the backup system on a regular basis. A backup that is never used is likely to be unreliable.

"This thing is ten times the cost of a generator. "

Home standby generators are around $2K, so they are in the same ball park. Also, the modern designs will automatically start themselves up and run for a few minutes on a periodic basis.

I have a lot of issues with the interpretation of the Ukraine crisis that Cohen laid out. In summary:

a) I do agree with him that the post-Cold War NATO expansion was a bad idea and a provocation to Russia. But that doesn't justify Russia's actions.

b) Yes there are ultra-nationalists in Ukraine, but they're pretty marginal in influence which is quite shocking considering the fact there's a civil-ish war going on. In contrast he doesn't even fully acknowledge the Russian ultra-nationalists who Putin has allied with and are basically driving policy.

c) There are Ukrainian nationalists walking around with swastika imagery:
a) When asked they generally claim it's not associated with Nazi-ism but has a historical context, this doesn't sound credible but then again what's the point of wearing a swastika to promote Nazi-ism then denying you're a Nazi?
b) I would expect Ukrainians to be rationally more sympathetic to Nazis merely on the basis that the Nazis invaded Ukraine to fight the USSR, which had recently starved several million Ukrainians to death in what may have been a semi-deliberate genocide attempt.

d) He criticizes the Ukrainians for the bombing of occupied cities, which is a legitimate criticism, but he fails to acknowledge that Ukraine is fighting the Russian army and is fairly legitimately in a total war situation (the rebels haven't refrained from shelling towns and cities either).

e) His analysis of the Minsk accord completely ignores the very real possibility that Russia is just looking for the most convenient way to kill it so they can take Mariupol.

f) According to him: "Kiev is supposed to pass certain constitutional reforms, giving a certain autonomy to the eastern regions. The eastern regions are supposed to hold new elections that in some way comply with Ukrainian law. If all that happens by December, then the Ukrainian-Russian border will be turned over to the Kiev authorities along with some European monitors."
Does he actually believe this? There is no possibility of this happening if for no other reason than Russia and the rebels wouldn't want to risk actual elections that could boot them out of power. The most likely "peaceful" resolution is either another frozen conflict or a Russian revolution taking down everything.

Peaceful Russian revolution does not look to be in the cards at this time. Frozen conflict remains most likely future.

Unlikely but also hard to predict.

The problem with ruling a country without free speech, or even a country with huge popularity, then no one really knows what's going. You always have sky-high approval ratings because everyone is too afraid to disagree and they don't really perceive any alternative. The problem is without a vigorous debate the leaders don't really know how to match the sentiment of the country because the sentiment of the country isn't that well formed.

It kind of reminds me of the Alberta election. There are four parties from left to right, the NDP, Liberals, PCs, and Wild Rose.

We obviously have free speech but we've been ruled by the PCs for decades, part of the reason for that is in the 70s the federal Liberals destroyed the Liberal brand in Alberta. As a result no one voted Liberal, people started thinking of Alberta as a very right wing province, and the NDP pretty much fell off the map as well. Wild Rose even came up because Conservatives thought the PCs were right wing enough.

Then this last election came up, the PCs made some mistakes, and people thought that Wild Rose would win. But then people realized they weren't that right wing, they took another look at the landscape, and now it looks like the left-most NDP is going to win.

Putin's risk is that he's unopposed, so at some point he might move too far to the right and ordinary Russians en-mass might simply abandon him. There's no real indications that this is happening, but there wouldn't be until the shift was well underway.

Re: Tesla: A 10 kWh battery costs $3,500. (not including installation or power inverter).

"1,000 Full Charge Cycles. This gives an LCOE of $0.35 / kwh. That compares to average grid electricity prices in the US of 12 cents / kwh, "

Umm, but that LCOE includes only the cost of storage and not the cost of the electric energy that was stored (or that 8% energy loss in the battery itslf (and its charger?), plus whatever losses can be expected in the inverter)?

Perhaps these batteries are the next big thing, but I'd still like to see a full and complete accounting of their cost.

If you cut the price in half, you can perform price-arbitrage on California power rates, which have a 17 cent differential from night to day, or so he says.

That doesn't save the home consumer any money, because you need to compare against flat-rate plans.

But if you can sell energy *into* the grid at peak times, this lets you buy cheap and sell expensive. So the big customers would be the grid operators who can more effectively do this themselves.

If the batteries drop in price, grid operators will replace peak power generators with battery storage. It will always be cheaper to do this on a large scale rather than on an individual home basis.

Where home and business energy storage shines is where there is a large difference between the retail cost of grid electricity and what electricity generated by rooftop solar can be sold to the grid for. Here in Australia the difference between the highest and lowest wholesale electricity price in a day is usually only about a few cents, but in my state the difference between the cost of grid electricity and what electricity from new rooftop solar can be sold for is always about 20 US cents. So the far better return will more than make up for the extra cost per kilowatt-hour of storage.

I could say a lot about Cohen's piece, but just a couple. I shall grant him one thing: Nuland is very bad news, and I have no idea why Kerry and Obama appointed her to the State Dept and to that position. She is just bad news.

OTOH, the list of things Cohen distorts or misses is long. I shall simply note two. One very central one is this matter of the NATO expansion. All that was promised to Gorbachev was the no NATO troops would be put into what was then East Germany after Germany would be unified. That promise has been kept. At the time of that discussion, the Warsaw Pact still existed. The very idea of a possible expansion was not even on the table. No promise was made, nothing was said. it is simply a convenient fantasy of current Rusian leaders that some promise was made not to expand NATO eastward. And while Cohen sneers at the point that nations like Poland asked to join NATO (and were held off for awhile), it is the truth, and with Russian actions in Ukraine, such nations now say that they had good reason to want to be in NATO.

The other has to do with the demonization of Putin. I remember well that Putin got a lot of good press after he first got in, His simplified flat tax was clearly a huge improvement over the previious system, and some other early moves could be described as real reforms. Cohen claims that it is presidential envy that has led outsiders to diss him, but this is silly. His demonization came as he started ordering assassinations of opponents and closing of media critical of him and ending democratic election of governors, and a lot of other things along such lines, not to mention his violations of international law in annexing Crimea and invading eastern Urkaine. As it is, while he characterizes western leaders as trying to overthrow Putin and so on, it is clear that Obama and several others continue to deal with him serioualy on a variety of matters, such as the agreement to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria and the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Yes, Cohen does point out flaws and some hypocrisy in western attitudes, but he also simply goes off the rails on some central issues.

On the topic of NATO expansion I don't think there was a promise but I suspect there was an understanding or at least an expectation on the part of the Russians.

Remember NATO was made to counter Russia, I'm sure Russians remember this, bringing old USSR members into NATO was always going to be threatening and insulting. How do you think the US would respond if Canada left NATO to join the Warsaw pact? I suspect a lot of the current animosity and aggression from Russia can be attributed to this expansion.

I understand why they wanted to join but I think a local ex-Warsaw military alliance would have been far more effective and protecting them without aggravating Russia.

I have no doubt there was an expectation, but there was no promise. There is a difference, and it is serious.
Also, NATO was not "made to counter Russia." It was made to counter the Soviet Union, which at the time had its military forces occupying not only East Germany but the nations that would join the Warsaw Pact. it was long believed that the only one of those nations that would have joined the Warsaw Pact under a democratically elected government would have been Bulgaria, where a statue of Tsar Alexander II still stands in the main square of Sofia, commemorating Bulgarian gratitude for Russian assistance in becoming independent from Turkey. It was also long said that the Bulgarians were the only WP members whom the Soviets would trust to stand in front of in an actual war situation.
Another point that Cohen extends off his flawed NATO argument is this business about how Russia deserves to have a zone of influence. Well, maybe, but should this zone include territories that it did not conquer in WW II? All the nations that have joined NATTO since the end of the USSR were independent and not under Soviet control prior to WW II, although some were under Russian control during parts of the tsarist period. Just which of these territories are supposed to be in Russia's zone of influence, and just how much authority and power is the influencer supposed to have over those in its zone?
Personally, I have no problem viewing Ukraine as being in some such zone, and for that reason I oppose it joining NATO. let it be formally neutal, like Austria and Finland have been. At the same time, I do not see that as allowing Russia to forbid Ukraine from having strong economic ties with the European Union or even joining it, as both Austria and Finland have done, and I most certainly do not see this as justifying it annexing a portion of Ukraine nor of sending in forces to instigate an uprising in part of Ukraine, even if that uprising is now mostly popularted by Ukrainians.
Another btw here is that Cohen was ranting about all these supposed opponents of the Minsk Accord, but as near as I can tell, it has been supported by the US leadership as well as those in Europe such as Merkel, Hollande, and Cameron. Also, while there appear to have been far more violations by the pro-Russian side, and it is very creaky with ongoing violations, I am frankly surprised that it has held as well as it has, with the rebels not taking Mariupol, for example, which I thought they would.

It's the "Russia is owed a sphere of influence" logic that is really the most insidious. That its routinely trotted out by soi-distant realist is just more evidence that the realist school is increasingly made up with people disenchanted with American power rather than realist per se. You get the sphere of influence that you can control as the U.S. learned from the Castro experience. Russia horribly mistreated its sphere of influence during the Warsaw Pact and now that I can no longer hold it by force it wants to alternate between guilting and bullying the West to not take advantage of that horrible record. Basically the realist are advancing an argument the logic of which leads them on a path to retroactively endorsing the invasion of Hungary in 1956 that even hard core French Stalinist couldn't stomach.

Cohen is basically stomach-turning in his approach, but he seems to be arguing that if we don't give Russia a sphere of influence, it is worse for our security. He doesn't get too explicit about it, but it sounds like he is thinking about their nuclear arsenal and their willingness to cooperate with anti-terrorist stuff and unpopular states. I think these are both a bit dubious on the merits and also maybe short-sighted. It is in our long term interests to isolate and weaken states like Russia which take it as a given that they should have sphere of influence.

Barkley, you seem to be casting me as a Russian apologist. I don't know if you saw my other comment further up but nothing could be further from the truth, I've been yelling at Putin-bots for over a year and trying to think of a way for the West to save Ukraine that doesn't result in WWIII.

But as to your points, the Soviet Union was a Russian empire, if you watch movies from that period the terms were used interchangeably. When the NATO expansion happened pro-West Russians were begging NATO to stop because it cast the West in a very adversarial light.

As to whether Russia has a right to a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe I'd say they don't. But I'd also say the US has even less right to a sphere of influence in South America yet they act like they do. Sphere's of influence aren't the result of kind admiration and influence, they're bullies pushing around the little guys because they can. Internationally the US is a relatively nice bully but a bully none the less, in Eastern Europe Russia is a very big and very bully.

As to whether those countries wanted to be part of the USSR and Warsaw pact it doesn't really matter. Russians believe those countries belong in a Russian empire and will act accordingly, as Putin demonstrated it doesn't matter if he's just, he just has to convince Russians that they can regain their glory.

Btw, don't assume Mariupol is safe, Putin's probably just looking for a good excuse to break the ceasefire and/or a battle plan to make taking the city less bloody. International politics isn't about what's right, it's about what you can do, even seemingly idealistic voters turn sociopathic on an international scale.


The matter of whether or not the Soviet Union was a "Russian empire" is not straightforward, and citing some movies that used one or the other term at different times in different languages does not cut it. Sure, broadly speaking it is a cliche that WW I was about the crisis of the three empires (not counting the more central ones of Britain and Germany) of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Tsarist Russian. The first two of those indeed came to an end and were dismantled, with their old ruling cores now reduced nations: Turkey and Austria. Much of world politics and history since has involved the problems of the scattered remnants of those empires, without pursuing that further here. But, supposedly the Bolshevik coup saved the old Russian Empire, although in fact portions of it were lost in the following mess, including relevant portions for this discussion such as the Baltic states, Finland, portions of Poland, and other parts. While indeed ethnic Russians tended to dominate the ensuing USSR, it was officially and formally not a Russian entity, with indeed the ideal of the New Soviet Man who was beyond ethnicity, with Lenin himself a supreme example with his highly mixed ancestry, although the amount that was Jewish, as well as Kalmyk (Asian) long kept rather quiet.

While what Putin can convince his compatriots now is important, at the bottom line the rest of the world must not buy into a bunch of lies and must tell Putin to go stuff it on this garbage. His people will eventually have to deal with it, when it finally becomes just undeniably and unavoidably obvious.

The argument about the US and Latin America was a serious point once upon a time, indeed for a long time, and not completely over yet. But, while the 1823 Monroe Doctrine certainly asserted that, and no one in the US government has ever repudiated that, with the exception of Venezuela, I think it has been a few decades (Panama under Bush, Sr.?) since the US has behaved in an overtly imperialistic manner towards any Latin American nation. If one wants to argue that the US continues to assert or exercise economic influence, that is certainly the case, but that has taken a much more indirect form with many Latin American nations openly resisting such influence.

As for Mariupol, I am in accord with you in being pessimistic. I think that the bottom line will be Donetsk and Lug(h)ansk oblasts being some version of Transdniestria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, etc., little republics recognized by Russia but nobody else, but with functional and established borders and more or less at peace. The question is what will be those borders and when will the Minks Accords or some extension finally come into play. Maybe they will take Mariupol and maybe they will not before it is all over, but there are clear economic advantages for their little rump states to do so, and by all reports the local population is nearly evenly split, so they can probably pull it off. In that regard, I already said I forecast they would take it, and I shall not at all be surprised if at some point they do. But, Putin is running out of steam, given that he has rising strikes and other problems as his economic problems press hard on him. He may just leave things as they are. Angela Merkel is breathing hard down his neck.

How do you think the US would respond if Canada left NATO to join the Warsaw pact?

Who cares? Canada had no interest in doing that. Poland and the Baltic States have suffered grievously at the hands of Russia, as has Hungary. Of course they want to be under a security umbrella.

Cuba in effect joined the Warsaw Pact and nuclear weapons were brief stationed there. It made the U.S. angry and frankly embarrassed the US (which is the emotion driving Russia's behavior in Ukraine--embarrassment at being out maunvered while hosting the Olympics), but we never felt the need to invade Cuba. It was discussed but cooler heads prevailed. I think a lot of the problems with Putin are that for all his instance that he is the cool steady hand, his behavior is for more aggressive than even the most aggressive of American russia Hawks.

"we never felt the need to invade Cuba": what? Bay of Pigs.

The U.S. military was in no way involved.

Does the Bay of Pigs raise a bell? It's very similar to what happened in Ukraine.

The main reason the US couldn't pull it off is the US never had a region of Cuba with strong US-support, nor did they have an endless stream of plausibly Cuban soldiers to surreptitiously sneak into the country. The US still spent a very long time trying to overthrow Cuba.

I'm not saying that Putin's acts aren't much, much worse, just that we have to realize that just like American's have rationalized many of the US's dubious actions Russians are able to do the same with their misdeeds. It's not enough to say that Russia is committing a horrific crime, you need to convince Russians to stop and that means empathizing with their concerns.

They aren't similar at all. We trained an exile army to make a surgical invasion hoping to topple the regime quickly. Putin is using russian military units to support a likely years long protracted rebellion.

I'd suggest you read a little bit about the Bay of Pigs invasion. Organizing and arming exiles is just categorically different from sending tanks and armored divisions into a country. There were no American personnel in 2506. Russia organized and armed third world liberation movements the world over as did the US. The whole Cold War paradigm revolved around that "arms-length" approach.

Meanwhile Russia is sending in active Russian soldiers disguised as rebels. It's the lying and attempts at claiming the victim card that I find disgusting.

It's disgusting but if you're going to convince Russians that their country is in the wrong you need to understand why they currently feel justified, and that involves understanding that some of the US's previous justifiable acts can be also be seen in a different light.

My goal (which is really too grandiose a description of a few hastily written posts) isn't to convince Russia. I mostly just don't want the highly decadent neo-realist school to influence Americans to perceive this conflict through their warped perspective. I consider the Russians largely unpersuadable. To my mind Russia is currently coming to grips with the repercussions of the humiliation that was the collapse of the Soviet Union. The only way to get over humiliation is to humiliate back.

"we never felt the need to invade Cuba."

Man, it's May 1st, not April 1st! Get your sh*t together.

If you can't tell the difference between arming an exile army amd using active military units to invade another country in support of a rebellion then I'm surprised you can tell the difference between April and May.

But not American Cuba hawks (at least, back in the day).

Did American military forces land in Cuba? That tells me the Hawks were in no way in control of policy.

Regarding the Cohen piece; I sympathize with the idea that the prevailing Western view of the conflict is wrong. I don't agree with that perspective, but neither do I have a mastery of current events in Ukraine (my view: However, an abundance of quality evidence, and rigorous analysis, is very helpful if one's goal is to present an alternative narrative, and to undermine an existing consensus; a good example of this kind of work is Alan Kuperman's International Security article on Libya Unfortunately, Cohen does not offer much concrete evidence to support his position. For example, maybe Kiev is not governing Ukraine as democratically as it ought to be, but Cohen does not provide support for this claim, he just recommends that someone else do the research to test his hypothesis. On the analysis side, the central claim in the interview is that NATO expansion hugely augmented Washington's sphere of influence in Europe, so it is wrongheaded to claim that Russia's desire for a similar sphere is illegitimate. This would make sense if all spheres of influence are created equal, but there are considerable differences between, say, Poland as a member of the Wasrsaw Pact, and Poland as part of the EU and NATO.

Despite these problems, Cohen does raise a very important point which deserves close discussion. Why didn't Washington and Brussels push harder to integrate Russia into their economic and security institutions in the 1990s? Was the principal obstacle reluctance in Western capitals, or reservations in the Kremlin? If there had been a serious offer to put Russia on a dual track to NATO and EU membership, was there a reasonable chance that it would have been accepted? The contention that NATO expansion is a reasonable explanation for Putin's invasion of Ukraine is seriously flawed (my view:; but, particularly considering the need to develop a constructive relationship with a rising China, it is useful to wonder whether it was a sub-optimal policy.

Finally, Cohen is not alone in thinking that something went awry in US policy towards Russia after the Cold War. In his interview with Tyler, Jeffrey Sachs argued that the U.S. refused to provide adequate economic support to Moscow because it wanted Russia to remain weak. If true, this is very sad.

Regarding the Cohen piece; I sympathize with the idea that the prevailing Western view of the conflict is wrong.

What is the function of intellectuals, but to tell us things are not as ordinary people perceive them?

Cohen was, during the late Cold War, a contributor to The Nation. He had no compunction about associating with the red haze and was a promoter of the memory of NEP era officials. His shtick has been what you'd expect: bonehead officials do not know what they're doing and they're not listening to sophisticated people like me and Victor Navasky who will instruct this vulgar country on how to deal with the more appealing parts of the world (or more put upon and thus appealing by extension). He could, of course, be right about the specific issue in question. What he would never do, however, would be to write an op-ed piece suggesting American officialdom had made the correct decisions.

Jeffrey Sachs argued that the U.S. refused to provide adequate economic support to Moscow because it wanted Russia to remain weak. If true, this is very sad.

Sachs was in the business of advising East European governments while they were performing a novel activity: dismantling a command economy. Did not work out badly in Poland, but the various components of Soviet Russia suffered a dreadful economic Depression. You think he might have an interest in shifting the blame?

I have no idea if Cohen is deeply biased, or if Sachs had ulterior motives when he made his comments about Russia; but, even if you are right, their claims can be assessed by examining the evidence and logic which is used to support them.

On a related note, I skimmed through the Cohen piece again, and my comment about him offering little concrete evidence to support his claims was ill advised. He does offer a wide array of facts, but readers can't assess them due to the absence of citations. Considering that the interview was published online, it should have been easy enough to provide relevant links. For instance, Cohen is right that the issue of ultra-nationalists/fascists in Ukraine deserves close attention, but he does not provide guidance regarding the size of the problem; a reference to a detailed piece of scholarship or journalism would have been useful.

I see the value of the Cohen piece not as a way to get a more accurate view of the conflict, but as a way to get the Russian view of the conflict.


Agree that Cohen's charge that the current Ukrainian regime is not democratic is a hypothesis that has no current empirical support and is basically a pathetic joke that makes it look like he is going senile that he would suggest it, although, of course, Ukraine is hardly some epiphany of global democracy.

OTOH, Cohen's and your raising questions about the neo-fascist elements in both the Maidan uprisings and the current government are very serious, and indeed are consistently ignored by most western media. This is indeed a point where Cohen scores some points, although he goes way overboard with it, and I fear that Putin will desecrate and degrade what should be a very serious memorial for the 70th anniversary of the victory of Hitler's Germany in WW II this coming May 9 by standing with the likes of Kim Jong-Un to declare his pathetic and indefensible crusade in Urkraine to be a straight extension of WW II. Ugh.

While Putin looks to be about to make a complete fool of Cohen with some awful historically embarrassing show in Red Square on May 9, we here in the US must recognize that Nuland should be removed from her position at the State Department for serving as a cheap bag lady for the indeed seriously neo-fascist elements in the Maidan. Really, she should go, ASAP.

As for J. Sachs, he is in a difficult position. He hands out a nice line to Tyler and many others, and I have a lot of respect for most of what he has done and his intentions. But, he has made mistakes. My Russian-born wife shook his hand at a banquet of Economists for Peace and Security, but she washed her hand afterward out of disgust for what she viewed as his role in the bad things that happened there, which he whitewashes, although he is not as guilty as the abominable Andrei Shleifer in this regard. I remember him at the 1994 AEA meetings in a large and full room lecturing the Poles on how ungrateful and stupid they were for refusing to cut their pension programs as he and Balcerowicz had been recommending, along with a lot of other "welfare" programs. This was Jeff at the height of the dominance of the crude form of the "Washington Consensus." Of course, Poland ended up doing better than any other transition nation given that they did not destroy their social safety net, with them being the only nation in Europe not going into recession at all during 2008-10. Nobody calls him on this now, and he along with the World Bank and IMF have all changed their line on this, partly due to observing what went down in Poland as compared to say, Russia, where crooks stole so much, and the current ruler, so admired by Cohen, is seriously reported to own about $40 billion of stolen value. But there only a few people around who remember what really went down, and I am one of them.

#2 - wonder what Bryan Caplan would think of this app...

#6 People does not cook or make coffee, easy things that can be done at home with relatively low skills and save lots of money. Why a convoluted plan work better? If energy storage is profitable, it will be done in big scale

I'm curious to read in the future about the tests of these big scale energy storage facilities. Differential pricing would become smaller

Axa, here in Australia, the difference between the maximum and minimum wholesale electricity price is usually only a few cents a kilowatt-hour or less. However, the difference between what grid electricity costs and what electricity from new rooftop solar can be sold to the grid for where I am is always about 20 US cents. So with our low cost of rooftop solar, currently home and business energy storage is a lot more cost effective than on grid storage, even though the cost per kilowatt-hour of storage for homes and businesses may be considerably more than for on grid storage.

Stephen Cohen has become one of Putin's biggest apologists. Inexplicably so.

6. Energy storage at the cost of Tesla's Powerwall will be revolutionary here in Australia. While it's not currently available down under (it's not even available to Americans just at the moment) it does show what home energy storage is likely to cost in the near future. With our high retail electricity costs, low solar installation costs, and low to no solar feed-in tariffs for rooftop solar, energy storage at Powerwall prices easily pays for itself. Currently I pay about 26 US cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity or about 35 cents all up including supply charges. The feed-in tariff for new rooftop solar is about 5 cents a kilowatt-hour. This means that provided the Powerwall stores electricity for about 20 cents or less it will more than pay for itself for an on grid installation. The system has a ten year warranty, and a twenty year extended warranty will be offered, so with an assumed 15 year lifespan, and a 5% discount rate, and allowing an extra $2,000 to cover the cost of instalation and the extra cost of a compatible inverter, the 7 kilowatt-hour $3,000 Powerwall will be a worthwile investment for households that regularly use about 7 kilowatt-hours or more of electricity at night. But the killer app for Australia may be an integrated solar inverter plus battery storage which could mostly eliminate the extra costs. It will take some time before energy storage at Powerwall prices will be available here, but it is clear that the Australian electricity sector is going to undergo some major changes.

4. You'd think a "cultural correspondent" would know that 'ja' isn't a typo of 'ha', 'jaja' is how Spanish speakers spell 'haha'.

Comments for this post are closed