2014 September 28 Sunday
What Can US Government Accomplish In Iraq And Syria?

The Middle East is full of tribal societies. Rulers of states therefore have a weaker hold on the loyalties the ruled than is the case where consanguineous (cousin) marriage is uncommon. The Shia tribes and Sunni tribes do not trust each other. The tribes within Sunni and Shia zones are less fair to each other the further away they get from genetic family ties.

In Iraq a larger Shia Iraqi Army force was easily driven from the Sunni regions. The Sunni ISIS have a hard time advancing into deep Shia areas. Saddam Hussein was able to hold most of Iraq together with a great deal of skill, brutality, and terror. Now Iraq has broken up into its ethnic pieces and so has Syria.

With air power and some advisers on the ground the US military can not hold territory. So what can US air power accomplish in Syria and Iraq?

In the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq and Syria the Shiite Arabs and Kurds are not going to capture and hold areas with Sunni Arab majorities. Neither the Shiite Arabs or the Kurds show signs of being willing and and to capture and hold towns and cities where Sunni Arabs will see them as the enemy.

Barack Obama's goal seems to be to reestablish the Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria and to maintain at least the legal fiction of a state of Iraq ruled from Baghdad. But since that state is supposed to be democratic and Shias are the biggest voting block the Sunnis aren't going to accept rule from Baghdad. Frankly, the Sunni position is reasonable. The Shias won't be fair to the Sunnis. Similarly, the Kurds are obviously better off with their own Kurdish state. The Yezidis and Christians (not that our own rulers care about them) need their own safe havens as well.

In Syria it appears that Obama wants Sunni rule. Sunnis are the majority in Syria. So democracy in Syria means Sunni rule. That means shaft the Christians, Alawites, Shias, and Druze. They are not excited at this prospect. Aside: Lebanon is an interesting side story in this conflict.

So what is going to happen? Maybe ISIS can be so degraded that some Sunni tribes in Iraq can be offered semi-independence with the guarantee that Shia Iraqi soldiers and Shia government officials will have to stay out of the the Sunni zone. Maybe a confederation under a weak central government (which would really be the Shiite zone's government) could be created. So the Sykes-Picot border could be restored and Iraq could then pretend to be a single country.

As for Syria: Obama has to severely degrade the capability of some of the forces competing with Assad's government for control of Syria. Obama faces a much harder task in Syria because other Sunni fighting groups that might replace ISIS aren't likely to be terribly, er, moderate. Has US air power (with help from special forces on the ground to direct bombs) become sufficiently efficacious that it can cut ISIS down to a size that other groups can then defeat it? Will Obama then shift his attention toward overthrowing Assad? The sight of a severely degraded Assad regime could cause the remaining Sunni militias to turn on each other with, likely, a more un-moderate one coming out on top.

Obama probably ought to take his time in Syria so that he can be out of office before the remaining Syrian Sunni groups decide to battle to decide who becomes the new Syrian strongman.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 28 07:48 PM 
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2014 September 27 Saturday
Political Deception Becoming More Efficient?

A thirty year old book by ex-KGB officer Anatoliy Golitsyn, New Lies For Old triggered a thought: The talent levels of the best political deceivers today must b much higher than the talent levels of best Soviet communist political deceivers. Why? Marketplace competition elevates the most talented to the top of any field of endeavor. That includes political deception as done by lobbyists, think tank writers, and Op/Ed writers.

Of course the internet enables more voices to be heard who are not professional deceivers. I am not sure (at least at the time of this writing) that deceivers are becoming more effective because they are more talented today. Big money interests can hire great persuasive talent and can find those deceptive diamonds in the political rough to harness to deceive us.

What seems likely is that on certain topics where a lot of big money interests and/or ethnic interests align (e.g. in the immigrant cheap labor lobby). Then we are exposed to much more unrelenting and well crafted deception. The deception seems most likely to be effective when an argument has to leave some large truths off the table (e.g. due to the hegemony of the tabula rasa faithful in academia) or where knowing the truths can only be only by having experiences (e.g. living in particular foreign cultures) or through advanced training (e.g. graduate studies in population genetics or climate science) which few have had.

Do you see any trends in terms of fields of debate where the debate is becoming more or less informative and truthful? When the stakes are highest are more or fewer deceptions succesful?

By Randall Parker 2014 September 27 11:22 AM 
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2014 September 24 Wednesday
Cadillac Chief Sees NYC Dwellers As Immersed In Premium Lifestyle

Why Cadillac is moving its headquarters to New York City.

“We are very proud of our Detroit roots and heritage, and the majority of the Cadillac workforce will remain in Michigan," de Nysschen said. "But there is no city in the world where the inhabitants are more immersed in a premium lifestyle than in New York. Establishing our new global headquarters in Soho places Cadillac at the epicenter of sophisticated living. It allows our team to share experiences with premium-brand consumers and develop attitudes in common with our audience."

Some people get to live a premium life. They get more octane out of living and earn a premium when they walk out into the streets just by living in a premium environment. New York City is a premium brand for the haves. New York City is not a brand for the have-nots. The next Big Apple mayor is going to have to create policies that accelerate the departure of non-premium people. The premium lifestyle should not be sullied by the presence of anyone who is not premium.

If New York City can drive out the non-premiums then the premiums will get a bigger benefit from living there. That's an exciting prospect. The purity of an only high premium citizenry must be intoxicating.

Of course, premium life is supposed to be treated as something magical that has no relationship to innate generally caused higher intelligence, an innate lower discount rate, greater innate ability to cooperate on groups or anything else innate.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 24 10:42 PM 
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German Companies Reducing Investment In Germany?

Has Germany peaked?

The German economy has shied away from investment for years. Companies have almost €500 billion stashed in savings, according to the DIW president's estimates, and yet the investment ratio in the German private economy fell from just under 21 percent in 2000 to a little more than 17 percent in 2013.

Many economists conclude that companies are anxious because they are worried not just about crumbling roads, but about the lack of qualified workers, the state of the euro zone and rising energy costs. And this fear, in turn, is stymying the planning for Germany's future.

Companies respond to costs. Germany has about 3 times the electric power costs of the United States. Though industrial buyers are not paying as much as residential buyers. Still, industrial buyers still pay much more for electric power in Germany than in the United States. A big thanks to go big subsidies for solar power in a country that doesn't get a lot of sun.

Germany's economic has been slow since the year 2000.

Since 2000, GDP growth has averaged just 1.1% annually, ranking 13th in the 18-member eurozone.

Germany is the world's third largest arms exporter (and I would not have guessed that). But German weapons companies (why call them defense companies?) are looking to move abroad because of new restrictions on weapons exports by the German government.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 24 10:41 PM 
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2014 September 14 Sunday
Suppose Scotland Secedes From UK, UK Leaves EU

The ball could start rolling to create many states. Exit of Scotland from the UK will make the British Labor Party a seriously minority party in the British Parliament. The UK Independence Party might be able to win a plurality leaving the Tories, Liberals, and Labour bargaining to form a coalition. The UKIP could demand a referendum on EU membership as their price to form a coalition government. Then the English, Welsh and northern Irish could vote to leave the EU. Or the Tories could run on EU exit when Scottish members of parliament leave London in March 2016.

An exit of the English from the EU would put the Scottish in a very interesting position. Still in the EU? Brussels would probably require that the Scottish apply. What would that do to Scottish trade? Their economy will go into a deep recession.

With the English, Scots, and Welsh out of the EU the Catalonians will feel emboldened (along with the Basques) to seek secession from Spain. What will that do to the EU? Will they grant each newly independent state membership? Or at least let trade flow unhindered?

What other secessionist movements are waiting to come out of the woodwork? How about the Northern League in Italy? They do not want to be in the EU or supporting the southern Italians.

Oh, and there is Belgium. How about a Flemish-Walloon split? Before we get that far expect a deep recession and financial crisis in Europe and the rest of the world economy pulled down by it. 2016 and 2017 could be bad years for the economy. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says "the borders are breaking. The liberal order is crumbling."

This trend goes beyond Europe. Quebec could take European splits as inspiration and leave Canada.

We might be on the edge of major political fragmentation. The wild card: If Bitcoin takes off then currency could cease to serve as a common glue keeping a nation together.

How about North America? Want you part of the USA to break off? What do you want to be a part off? How about a merger of the US northwest with British Columbia?

The Middle East is becoming more fragmented. Libya is in pieces. In Syria and Iraq (or parts of the former Syria and Iraq) ISIS is trying to break the Sykes-Picot agreement. Ditto Kurdistan. Will they be allowed to succeed? Or will the Empire strike back and crush the new states?

By Randall Parker 2014 September 14 09:09 PM 
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2014 September 13 Saturday
Choosing A Higher Paying Occupation Pays Better

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields vary greatly in their economic value in the job market. Petroleum engineering and machine learning are hot. Botany, zoology, and library science (really, the people who do this have labeled it a science) are not. Women major in lower paying science subjects while men are much more heavily represented in higher paying engineering, computer science, and math occupations.

Do men (or at least some men) feel more obligated or driven to go for the big bucks? Seems like it.

Men are also much more heavily represented in all the most dangerous occupations. Curiously, aircraft pilot is considered one of the more dangerous occupations.

Why do men make more money? They work in occupations that pay more. The biggest problem with higher education today is that the big growth in college enrollment in recent decades is heavily concentrated in low value majors. Women have piled into these majors more than men have.

In spite of the main reason men dominate in many higher paid occupations (a willingness to study for and work in these occupations) Tyler Cowen would like us to believe that the gender wage gap is going to close. This is the same Tyler Cowen who thinks people who can synergize well with computers have the brightest futures. People who learn quantitative skills, engineering skills, software skills are best prepared to work complementary with computers, not people who want to study subjects that get them into occupations that let them socialize with more people.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 13 11:02 PM 
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2014 September 12 Friday
Marxism Lifts Up Kurdish Women In Middle East

The Marxists of the Kurdish Worker's Party are the biggest force for women's rights in the Middle East

It was as a young woman in the rugged mountains of southeast Turkey and northern Iraq that Avesta says she discovered herself. "It was in the mountains that I found out women can be also powerful," said Avesta. The ranks of the PKK, a Marxist organization, are filled with women, a rarity in the conservative cultures of the Muslim world. About half of the organization's leaders are women. And the Kurdish guerrilla group stands in especially stark contrast to the radical fundamentalism of the Islamic State, which confines women's role to mostly domestic tasks such as raising children, cooking, cleaning, and pleasing their husbands.

All the people who think Marxism belongs to the dust heap of history are so obviously wrong. I was wrong too. But now I see the error my my ways.

There are plenty of female Kurdish soldiers on the front lines. They’re smaller than their male comrades, but they talk just as tough as they prowl the battlefield clutching automatic rifles and vowing vengeance for those victimized by the Islamic State.

“We are equal with the men,” said Zekia Karhan, 26, a female guerrilla from Turkey who is with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK. “Every responsibility for a man is the same for a woman. We are treated equally, and that is why we are fighting.”

Marxism is doing more to elevate the status of women in the Middle East than anything the United States has done. In fact,, the US interventions have worsened the plight of women, Christians, and Yezidis.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 12 10:16 PM 
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2014 September 11 Thursday
Fun Time Machine Trips

A cool thing to do with a time machine: go back to 1750 American colonies with designs for low tech mechanical cotton pickers. The rise in slave cotton picker productivity probably made slavery expand by increasing the ROI from owning slave labor. But a huge increase in cotton harvesting productivity would have caused the opposite effect: less need for slaves on cotton plantations. Collapse of demand for slaves in the Old South would have put the US on a very different trajectory. The US civil war, with over a half million dead and a big expansion of federal power, would have been avoided.

Another fun trip: Go back to the 1913 Austro-Hungarian Empire and kill Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, and Hitler. Then sneak into Sarajevo and kill the assassins of the Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and avoid that cause of World War I. An early death for Gavrilo Princip and his confederates would have at least delayed the start of World War I. But could the war be avoided by time travelers?

My favorite fun trip idea: go back and prevent Julius Caesar's assassination. How would the rise of the Roman Empire be altered? Is there any way a time traveler could delay the decline of the Roman Empire by centuries? Suppose you learned Latin, came back with skills to help Caesar, and then gave him advice on how to run the empire. Could soil conservation policies put in place by Caesar last long enough to do the trick?

By Randall Parker 2014 September 11 09:20 PM 
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America's Diverse Allies In Iraq Against ISIS

Supporting diverse factions in Iraq is the best way to pretend we can construct a more inclusive central government in Baghdad.

“The ground coalitions we’re supporting with air power are uniquely different in each case,” said Doug Ollivant, a former advisor to Gen. David Petraeus who served in the National Security Council under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “In Sinjar, it’s largely the PKK [a Kurdish militia] who rescued the Yazidis,” Ollivant said. “In Mosul, it was the Golden Brigades [An elite unit of the Iraqi army] with the Peshmerga in support, and in Amerli it looks like Shia militias with the Iraqi military in support.

Some of those Shia militias are backed by Iran. Some have Iranian Shias fighting with them.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is considered to be terrorists for how they oppose Turkish rule over Kurds. But PKK female fighters are totally cool. Plus some of the Jihadists are afraid if they are killed by a woman they won't get the big reward of many beautiful women in heaven. I say we arm the PKK women warriors with shoulder-launched rocket launchers, armored vehicles, and anything else they want.

Also, we should arm the Kurdish women fighters in Syria and when the United States extends the air war to Syria the Kurdish warrior women could escort the US special forces that will call in the air strikes.

US journalists should step up and find the sexiest Kurdish women fighters and show us their pictures in action using fancy American weapons.

Just as the feminist web sites are ignoring Rotherham UK rapes of early teen girls by Pakistani Muslims are they also ignoring the Kurdish warrior women? Nothing quite says sexual liberation like a a Kurdish woman getting an ISIS jihadist in the crosshairs of a sniper scope.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 11 08:13 PM 
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2014 September 07 Sunday
Peter Frost: No Single Natural Law

Peter Frost argues there is no universally accepted set of innate beliefs about right and wrong behavior. Natural selection and local circumstances have generated big differences in what people see as acceptable human behavior.

Human societies similarly differ in their treatment of murder. There is a general tendency to limit the taking of human life, but the variability is considerable. In some societies, murder is so rare that instances of it are thought to be pathological. The murderer is said to be "sick." In other societies, every adult male has the right to use violence to settle personal disputes, even to the point of killing. If he abdicates that right, he's no longer a real man.

The same "problem" will thus be solved in different ways in different places. Over time, each society will develop a "solution" that favors the survival and reproduction of certain people with a certain personality type and certain predispositions. So there is no single human nature, any more than a single Natural Law. Instead, there are many human natures with varying degrees of overlap./p>

Universal religions that purport to speak to everyone about how to live their lives are built on the false assumption of a common shared human nature. Someone who has a propensity for violence or a brilliant psychopath who enjoys causing emotional pain isn't going to hear a conscience compartment of their brain telling them they are doing a bad thing. Some people can kill, steal, manipulate, and torture (either physical or more common emotional varieties) without any feelings of remorse or guilt.

Or take jealousy. As Peter Frost points out, nudity taboos will vary depending on the amount of sexual competition. People with stronger innate desires for monogamy will be less influenced by nudity than those who are innately promiscuous. So rules surrounding clothing and protection of single females will vary considerably from society to society.

As an illustration of just how much innate reactions on moral issues differ look at the sex abuse and rape of hundreds of girls by Pakistani Muslims men in Rotherham England. The police were afraid or restrained from cracking down and doing mass arrests out of fear of appearing racists. Hey, lots of leftists in Britain think not appearing racist is more important than protecting 13 year old girls from rape by lots of taxi drivers. They really think this way. Yet this reaction is extremely foreign to my own thinking and deeply repugnant to me. I know I differ from these people on the political Left in some very fundamental way. I couldn't bring myself to react the way they can. Their reaction is proof that big innate differences in moral reasoning exist in human brains.

I think the rapes in Rotherham and Rochdale, Derby, and Oxford as well as leftist spin against blame speak to large differences in moral reasoning modules of the brain. There is no universal human nature and the idea of universal values shared by all is a dangerous illusion.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 07 12:11 PM 
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2014 September 04 Thursday
2007 Incomes: The Good Old Days For 90+ Percent Of Americans

A report from the US Federal Reserve, Survey of Consumer Finance, finds that only the top end have recovered their incomes back to levels they had before the big recession and financial crisis took hold in 2008.

“Families defined as middle to upper-middle class (which fall between the 40th and 90th income percentiles) “saw little change in average real incomes” between 2010 and 2013 and consequently have failed to recover the losses experienced between 2007 and 2010, the report said..

Do not be complacent about your career. Find a way up or you are going to go down.

Sharply declining incomes for those on the lower cognitive rungs.

The always observed correlation between education and income were as pronounced as ever, with median income for those with a high school diploma or less falling between 6% and 9%, and for those without a high-school diploma falling 17%. Those with a college degree saw income improve, but not much, just 1%.

The US middle class peaked in the late 1990s,

Median household income in 2012 was $51,017, meaning that half of all households make less than that number. Adjusted for inflation, that number is about $7,000 below where it stood in the late 1990s.

The full report is here.

People who lose their jobs get back into the economy at a lower rung.

New York -- Jobs gained during the economic recovery from the Great Recession pay an average 23% less than the jobs lost during the recession according to a new report released today by The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) under the leadership of President Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The annual wage in sectors where jobs were lost during the downturn was $61,637, but new jobs gained through the second quarter of 2014 showed average wages of only $47,171. This wage gap represents $93 billion in lost wages.

Under a similar analysis conducted by the Conference of Mayors during the 2001-2002 recession, the wage gap was only 12% compared to the current 23% -- meaning the wage gap has nearly doubled from one recession to the next.

If you lost your job could you get another one that pays as well? If the answer No then think hard about how to change that.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 04 08:57 PM 
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2014 September 02 Tuesday
NATO Response To Russia Will Be Mostly Bluster

Some people think Vladimir Putin has done NATO (at least the organization) a favor by invading Ukraine. But will NATO member countries boost their very low defense spending? I doubt it. Their rapidly aging populations want tax revenues to flow to them, not to defense budgets. Plus, they think they can rely on American taxpayers put up the money to keep them safe.

I think Russia will either turn Ukraine into a semi-neutral country that won't make trade deals with Europe or he will peel off another Russian-speaking piece of Ukraine and leave the rest much more Ukrainian and possibly therefore more Euro-leaning.

The WaPo editorial board wants NATO countries to arm Ukraine with anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, and drones. You can bet that European countries aren't going to spend a lot of their money on arming Ukraine, what with big welfare states to fund and stagnant economies. So should the US spend some billion dollars to arm Ukraine with enough stuff to crush Russian tank columns? How much would it cost to do that?

Europe won't do much.

But some analysts said Europe would not go beyond sanctions. “They have to do something because Putin is behaving badly,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, “but it’s all they can do.”

The Russians could cause European economic collapse just by not selling energy. Of course, that would cause the Russian economy to crater as well. But it isinstructive to see just how much of imported energy in Europe comes from Russia. Germany and Belgium at 30% of imported energy each from Russia are pretty vulnerable. But Poland at 91% and Lithuania at 92% are in a whole nuther realm of vulnerable.

If Europe was seriously scared of the Russian bear it could build nuclear power plants, wind farms, and lots of PV roofing as well as mandate a substantial fraction of new cars be electric.

Ukraine is so dependent on Russian energy that it would not surprise me if Ukraine comes out of this as a client state to Russia.

The Baltic countries are feeling very vulnerable at this point.

Still, some NATO members, like Estonia, say what’s needed is more than a new force.

“For us, it would be important that both NATO and the U.S. would be present in our region as long as Russia is continuing its aggressive policies. So we’re talking about continuous or more sustainable presence of both NATO and the U.S. in the region," said Tanel Sepp, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Estonia.

Estonia’s chief of mission to the U.S. tells VOA his country already has adequate facilities, including one of the most modern military airfields in northern Europe.

Europe needs to either kick its dependence on Russian energy or become big time apologists for whatever the Russians want to do.

Update: Let me separate two different concerns here: First, American national interest in Ukraine is small. America loses little if Ukraine never joins NATO or the EU and if instead Russia's influence and involvement in Ukraine grows. At the same time, imagine it really did matter for America and Europe what becomes of Ukraine. Well, Europe is too dependent on Russian oil to seriously put the screws to Russia's economy. There is a large mutual dependence between EU countries and Russia. Plus, the aging populations in EU countries and their economic problems weigh much more in the minds of their politicians and publics.

Given the circumstances why did the US government and some EU governments push for incorporating Ukraine into the EU? Faith in secular liberal manifest destiny? Just because they could play games playing with a country while pretty much giving the Russians a contemptuous glare? Or was the crisis made to order to prop up military spending? It is certainly going to do that in the United States and keep NATO feeling purposeful. I would opt for the manufactured crisis theory if I was more sure of the ability of some people in Washington DC to carry out such a clever subterfuge for several years.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 02 07:58 PM 
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2014 September 01 Monday
Daniel Larison: Do Not Arm Ukraine

Since we really are not willing to fight for Ukraine Western governments never should have encouraged Ukraine to break free from Russia's orbit.

Several Western governments carelessly pursued a contest for influence with Russia in Ukraine without having any intention of dedicating the resources or taking the risks that such a contest required, and they did so without ever considering how negatively Russia would react to the attempt. Now that we can see how disastrously this has turned out, it makes absolutely no sense to repeat the error by encouraging Ukraine to fight an unwinnable war.

Which governments encouraged Ukraine to take a line that earned Putin's wrath? Was the Obama government one of the governments encouraging Ukraine? My (admittedly vague) impression was that the US State Department was for a trade deal between the EU and Ukraine.

Then Ukraine will have to maintain tariffs on Western goods and buy lousier stuff from Russia instead.

What I find interesting about Ukraine and also China in the South China Sea: There are limits to how far the United States will go to protect a country that wants to be free of undemocratic bully neighboring countries. The US will not protect Ukraine or, for that matter, some of China's nearest neighbors. Quite a few countries and ethnicities are going to (and in some cases already have) get into and stay in submissive positions toward Russia and China.

By Randall Parker 2014 September 01 10:48 AM 
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