On Blogging Heads TV Noah Millman talks with Stephen Walt about excesses in US foreign policy. In one of Walt's sentences he refers to "the general propensity for threat inflation" in US national security and foreign policy circles. So true.
As Millman points out America's power combined with instant reporting of events all over the world makes it far more likely that voices will call for interventions anytime something somewhere seems to be going wrong. The "going wrong" might be from the perspective of American interests but it seems more often to be from the perspective of values. I certainly feel that way about ISIS/Daesh turning women into slaves for example.
They discuss Libya as an example where US intervention didn't create a happy outcome. Ditto Afghanistan and Iraq. As things stand now it looks like the US invasion of Iraq created conditions that might allow a new fundamentalist Sunni Muslim state to arise out of pieces of Iraq and Syria with a lot of other groups quite shafted in the process.
While Obama is ramping up the US intervention in Iraq and Syria my suspicion is that he just wants to hold back ISIS/Daesh long enough to pass that war on to the next US President. As Walt and Millman point out though, US support for the Iraqi military helped enable corruption (especially after the US withdrew) and conditions that led to the current fracturing of Iraq and Syria. It seems unlikely that the US government will find a way to make the Iraqi government sufficiently less corrupt enough to enable an effective army to be built up in Iraq.
If you click thru note the 1.4x button that will speed up the video playback. The software cuts out dead space and lets you watch discussions a lot faster. I wish other video sites (notably YouTube and the assorted online news channels) had this feature.
Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary did better out of the EU than Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Portugal did inside it. The EU has failed to live up to expectations. For some countries (e.g. Greece, Portugal, Spain) EU membership has been a disaster.
We do not (at least to my knowledge) have access to a parallel universe where different countries joined the EU. But it isn't hard find reasons why membership in the EU is bad for internet start-ups and other small firms that trade online. EU regulations are seen as a burden on businesses and some attempts are being made to reduce those burdens. But the new VAT regulations for small scale online traders are a big step in the opposite direction. Leviathan must be fed and it must be fed now.
Desperate times call for more corruption and incompetence. Iraq is a corrupt tribal society which US aid and US advisers can not fix.
BAGHDAD — One Iraqi general is known as “chicken guy” because of his reputation for selling his soldiers’ poultry provisions. Another is “arak guy,” for his habit of enjoying that anis-flavored liquor on the job. A third is named after Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bills, “General Deftar,” and is infamous for selling officer commissions.
New American military aid, like old American military aid, is getting stolen and ending up in the hands of Daesh/ISIS. Since US soldiers left in 2009 the amount of corruption has skyrocketed. There is no way the US is going to crush Daesh if it tries to use a corrupt Iraqi Army as its primary instrument.
Why not give weapons to the Kurds, Yezidis, and Christians? Why not give aid directly to Sunnis who are opposed to Daesh? I bet if we handed the weapons to people who fear for their lives the weapons would be much less likely to end up in the hands of Daesh jihadists. The Kobani Kurds will kill many times more Daesh fighters per dollar spent than Iraqi Army units will. Our aid ought to be distributed accordingly.
Update: Andrew Bacevich points out that Iraq no longer exists. It is true. What fighting force is going to put it back together again? No such fighting force exists. Bacevich lists 5 myths which DC policy makers assume about the Middle East. I would add another: modern nation-states can be built out of tribal societies.
Given that all the king's horses and all the king's men aren't going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again what should US policy be toward the territories which are still recognized as Iraq and Syria? Given that indifference is off the table I think we ought to fund factions that will be friendly toward us, relatively more capable in battle (setting the bar much lower than "great fighters"), and hostile toward factions that hate us.
Our biggest Middle East policy ought to be an immigration policy: keep them over there and let their conflicts play out over there, not here.
Russia is corrupt and its government can't do some really basic things (e.g. build decent roads). But Putin is throwing his weight around trying to do a new version of the Cold War. The Finns are worried and watching the big bear closely. Putin is not a good Tsar. Back in October 2013 NY Times writer Ellen Barry took the highway from St. Petersburg to Moscow and stopped at villages and sites along the way. The result is an essay that gives a glimpse of the decay and corruption that is Russia. The Russia Left Behind: A journey through a heartland on the slow road to ruin.
Mr. Chertkov has begun to crave order, something he imagines existed under Stalin. He feels envious when he drives through Belarus, where the police are too afraid to ask for bribes. The Russia he sees from the cab of his truck doesn’t suffer from a lack of freedom; it suffers from a lack of control.
The highway between St. Petersburg and Moscow is in appallingly bad state. The Russian government's policy makes no sense. It could enact fuel taxes to fund a huge highway construction program. Why not? It is not like democratic opposition to the fuel taxes would find any voice. Putin controls the TV stations and the newspapers are mostly cowed at this point.
Meanwhile Russian troops are carving out another piece of Ukraine and the Russian military is conducting attack runs against Western targets. The most interesting move: expansion of the Russian government-supported press to spread propaganda. How effective will this be? The assorted Western news organizations produce a huge amount of news. Can Russian publications have much impact in this age of the internet?
Vladimir Putin is confused in thinking the West is his biggest problem. His own government is his biggest problem. Russia is not well governed. It ought to be.
It’s a provocative thought: if traditional marriage is no longer exclusive in law and culture in the United States, and if the American people have come to believe (as we have) that marriage is something we have the right to redefine as we wish, then why shouldn’t the polygamous instinct buried deep within the LDS faith not reassert itself? If I were a Mormon inclined to return to the fundamentals of my faith, I would wonder why, exactly, honoring the old bargain still mattered.
Douthat is Catholic and Dreher is Eastern Orthodox. They think about doctrinal debates and splits in churches. They have the backgrounds needed to think that doctrinal changes matter.
Will the Mormons remain Mormon? In Latin America Pentecostalism is making big inroads. But I do not see an obvious alternative church that can appeal to Mormons. A splinter church might be more likely.
The problem with any of these scenarios: The Mormons are going to want to stay law abiding. Legalize polygamy and Douthat's thought experiment suddenly becomes a like more plausible. But a movement to legalize polygamy faces a much tougher road. The American Left found putting homosexual and heterosexual unions on equal legal ground extremely appealing. But where will the supporters come from to legalize polygamous marriage? You might argue that it is inconsistent to favor some forms of marriage over others. But the same people who made that argument in favor of gay marriage will be about as consistent about that as university administrators are about free speech. They'll see polygamous marriage as innately patriarchal and oppressive.
Oh wait, there is one other source of support for polygamous marriage: Islam. Will some European (culturally formerly European) countries legalize polygamy for their Muslim residents?
One thing I'm watching for: rise of a religion that aims to develop great influence to create legally favorable conditions in a small Latin American country. Recall that some Mormons lived in colonies in Mexico in order to practice polygamy. Well, Mexico is too big for the Mormons to get control of it. But suppose they focused on a much smaller country? Could they or another religion carve out a legal sphere in which they could follow whatever practices they desired?
Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the US National Security Agency, told Congress that China and possibly a couple of other countries have the ability to take down the US electric power grid in a cyber attack. Lights out disaster novels premised on the collapse of the US power grid usually use an electromagnetic pulse to make it happen. But internet packets might be enough to do it - albeit for a shorter period of time.
Do you ever get the sense that the US government defends us against non-threats and small threats while inviting in or ignoring much bigger threats? Seems that way to me. We have the USAF building the most expensive fighter plane at the slowest rate of development that guarantees old technology by the time the thing finally flies. Hundreds of millions spent while the head of the NSA says our electric power grid could be taken down by a cyber attack. We fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East while Western societies let radical Muslims immigrate.
It isn't just the government that is lame and focused on the wrong stuff. Lots of companies have lame internet security with lots of devices on the net that can be easily penetrated.
Another story came out a few weeks ago about how Russian hackers have put some malware called "Black Energy" into key infrastructure computers and the malware has been in place for a few years. Is this true?
I'm quite prepared to think that utility companies, fuel pipeline companies, and the like are even more lame than Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, and a long list of other companies who at least discovered hacks. The core competencies required to do internet security seem quite different than the other core competencies needed to run most companies. I do not expect the CEO of a power utility to get computer security..
US companies and other Western companies are bleeding their designs, customer lists, formulas, and processes to Russian, Chinese, and other players who are eager to steal information for profit. Plus, states and even non-state actors are eagerly preparing for cyber warfare by penetrating systems that control key pieces of infrastructure. I;m guessing the non-state actors of a hostile sort (as compared to being of a money-seeking criminal sort) are most likely to carry out real attacks against infrastructure computers. Have they failed to do so due to lack of intellectual resources?
Gruberism: the belief that everybody else is slightly dumber and less well-motivated than oneself and, therefore, politics is more about manipulation than conversation.
People on the political Left who offer an opinion on the subject want universal suffrage, for all to have the vote. Yet they treat the lower classes as tools to manipulate to achieve elite goals. Maybe they like that the lower classes are easier to deceive?
If you haven't heard about Obamacare advocate Jonathan Gruber's take on the need to lie to the masses to implement the Left's goals then have a look at that video. It also includes Eric Hoffer on intellectuals:
:[The intellectual] doesn't just want obeying. He wants you to get down on your knees and praise the one who makes you love what you hate and hate what you love. In other words, wherever the intellectuals are in power, there is soul raping going on."
Have a look at Steven Pinker on the need for totalitarians to silence critics so that no mass uprising against them is possible. His speech is before a group (Fire) that fights against speech codes in academy. What does it say about academia that it is the arena in America where free speech is most systematically attacked and suppressed? That the academics want to rule us?
The classes are diverging from each other in lifestyles, work ethic, and economic relevance. Is the top 0.001% leaving behind the top 0.01%? Only the very biggest private jets are selling. Tough times for the small jet buyers.
My biggest concern with the concentration of so much wealth into so few hands: Will it cause financial instability and panic? People who spend most all that they make won't cause much of a financial stampede. If they have mortgage, utilities, food, insurance, and other bills they won't vary their spending much unless they lose their jobs. But rich folks can slash their consumption 90% and still have good lifestyles. So the very upper classes seem like a much more variable source of demand.
This jet story is a symptom of a larger phenomenon. Tax revenue numbers by earning level say a lot about how little most people pay in to financing America's system of government. The top 20% pay over 2/3rds of US federal taxes.
The top 1 percent, for instance, earned almost 15 percent of income and paid 24 percent of federal taxes. The top 20 percent earned 51.9 percent of income and paid 69 percent of taxes.
But it isn't the top earners, but rather the top wealth holders who are buying the upper end airplanes. A recent study on wealth distribution in America show the top 0.01% have an average net worth of $371 million. I do not think $371 million net worth is enough for a $100 million jet. So the top 0.001% are probably the ones buying the big jets.
On the other side of the spectrum, the fortunes of the wealthy have grown, especially at the very top. The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record.
What's also interesting from that article: the bottom 50% have so little net worth that they do not figure in net worth calculations. What I'd like to see: a graph showing the income percentile at which a resident of the United States becomes a net taxpayer (paying in more than they get in benefits). My guess is that percentile has risen with time and will continue to do so.
A substantial fraction of the population pays little in taxes. Some of them also do not want to look for work, A new Pew Research study finds that a growing fraction of the American population do not work and do not want to work.
more than 92 million Americans — 37% of the civilian population aged 16 and over — are neither employed nor unemployed, but fall in the category of “not in the labor force.”
You might put this down to an aging populate. But no. A rising fraction of the young are not seeing work as relevant to their lives.
But let’s look in particular at the youngest part of the eligible workforce. The share of 16- to 24-year-olds saying they didn’t want a job rose from an average 29.5% in 2000 to an average 39.4% over the first 10 months of this year. There was a much smaller increase among prime working-age adults (ages 25 to 54) over that period. And among people aged 55 and up, the share saying they didn’t want a job actually fell, to an average 58.2% this year.
How are they getting the money to live? Parents? Girlfriends and boyfriiends? Spouses? Scams on the government? Workers compensation fraud is pretty prevalent.
These people are ready for a life of leisure served by robots. I wonder if they'll get it. Why they might not: full automation cuts the need to put factories in large population countries. The capitalists might move their robotic factories to Iceland and similar islands.
In Florida, which tests students more frequently than most other states, many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing.
The quest to close the Great American Test Gap has driven federal, state, and local governments into a state of insanity. Just how long will the insanity last? The most important test is of course excluded: the IQ test. Such tests are important because General Cognitive Ability Is Substantially Heritable and Massively Polygenic. Hey, more testing can't change DNA sequences. The kids ought to be given IQ tests so that their rate of progress could be compared to their potential.
What would be a more constructive use of testing: enhanced memory formation. The testing would have to be done an optimal length of time after the kids get taught each piece of material. But the testing maniacs aren't trying to be scientific.
Tyler Cowen has a post about how charter schools supposedly get better over time. But what does that mean? The student quality may be improving. So I made this comment that bears repeating:
Education research that does not adjust for IQ differences of students can’t compare the efficacy of different kinds of schools and different kinds of teaching approaches.
Seriously. If you do not adjust for the biggest factor of all how can the results mean anything?
Education research that does not try to control for intelligence differences of students (i.e. the vast bulk of education research) can't say much about what schools and teaching methods are better. A school full of extremely bright kids will do better than a school with only very bright kids and that pattern holds across the whole spectrum of intellectual abilities.
Education research is one of the academic areas most damaged by the tabula rasa faith which still dominates academia.
With a very limited set of clues, smart guys managed to get key facts about European prehistory roughly correct almost 90 years ago . With tremendously better tools, better methods, vastly more money, more data, etc, archaeologists (most of them) drifted farther and farther from the truth.
You can read Greg's own guesses as to the migration and invasion patterns into Europe parts of Asia based on the linguistic, genetic and other evidence available to date.
It seems like there is a sort of intellectual arms race between accumulating evidence on one side and deepening commitment to an ideology on the other side. The amount of evidence needed to prove the truth keeps rising. How much evidence is needed? Take how much is possible to collect at the moment and then raise it. That's how much.
Greg is writing about geographic distribution of genetic variants and what that says about when groups expanded into Europe and which other groups they wiped out it the process. Processes akin to ethnic cleansing (except some of it was "kill the men and take the women") happened repeatedly over tens of thousands of years. Some people don't want to believe that for a variety of reasons.
I'm still cautiously optimistic (but only cautiously optimistic) that plunging costs of DNA sequencing will so increase the amount of DNA available and result in the identification of so many genetic variants that control intellectual potential and behavioral tendencies that the current Left Narrative will break under the pressure of relentless intellectual assault. But I could be wrong. It would seem that the need for a faith to believe in is so strong that a large fraction of the non-religious will just adopt a secular faith. No doubt genetic variants to explain variations in the need for faith will be discovered as well.
Four states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — passed measures to increase the minimum wage. Alaska’s measure will increase the minimum wage to $9.75 in 2016, the Arkansas measure raises the minimum wage to $8.50 by 2017, Nebraska’s will rise to $9 by 2016 and South Dakota’s goes to $8.50.
All of the plains states should jack up their minimum wage rates to $12 per hour and eventually go higher still. In a nutshell: the least skilled and least intellectually able would be driven to leave and to stay out.
Democrats have not won a majority of white women since 1992.
I was surprised by that statement and I'm embarrassed to admit it. Surely I thought most white women have been sold on the message that the Republican Party is waging a war on women. But apparently a majority of them reject the propaganda. Since marriage rates are higher among white than among black and hispanic women and since marriage is strongly correlated with voting Republican it makes sense that more white women are voting Republican. In expensive New York City where the big media companies pump out their messages the writers are going to look around and see lots of single women because housing and family formation costs so much and those women are more likely to vote for government as substitute father and husband..
We need some sort of anti-propaganda primer that lays out a large number of basic truths that let one deprogram more efficiently from the incessant messages of the Left Narrative. Anyone want to write a book?
Even worse than Iraq without Saddam Hussein. Patrick Cockburn: The West Is Silent as Libya Falls Into the Abyss.
Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling.
Missing from Cockburn's article: the word tribal or tribe. Also, the only reason he mentioned Islam was because he referred to the Islamic State in Iraq. It says a lot about the mindset and beliefs of Western left-leaning intellectuals and journalists that few will try to drill down to root causes.
Given the amount of knowledge available for understanding the world it is remarkable how hard it is for most people to find the most important and explanatory ideas and discoveries about human nature and why various humans act as they do.
Check this out: Germany 'would accept UK exit from EU' to protect migration rules.
British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to renegotiate the internal open borders of the European Union so that immigrants do not come in and get on welfare benefits. But the German PM wants Britain to keep going thru a radical change in British demographics including growth of the welfare state. Madness.
In the long run Britain would be better off to leave the EU and then negotiate with the EU for a labor migration deal as well as a trade deal.
The government of Sierra Leone is upset because the Canadian government had the good sense to stop issuing visas to people from countries where Ebola is on a killing spree.
Someone tell the head of the US Centers for Disease Control. Will he denounce the Canadians? Will the Gray Lady run an editorial sneering at the Canadian government for trying to protect Canadians?
Also, More than 7 in 10 Americans support Ebola quarantines for health workers. Will the head of the CDC denounce 7 in 10 Americans for being reasonable?
If it was up to me every Kurdish woman would have an excellent rifle with scope and quite a few would have Javelin anti-tank weapons. These are just the sort of people who should kill Jihadists.
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.”
The Kurds deserve their own country carved out of a few others. Relative to other groups in their neighborhood they show more signs of modernity. Granted, this is modernity by Middle Eastern standards. But the Middle East is where they deserve their country.
The Kurds are up against Washington DC attitudes as their biggest obstacle to statehood. The War Nerd argues something I've been suspecting: the USAF went light on the Kobani air strikes because the US government just wanted events in Kobani to point to as justification for the larger war. But the press paid so much attention to Kobani that the US government was forced to turn up its air war on Daesh/ISIS more than was originally intended.
If you consider the possibility that the US wasn’t trying to stop IS, at least not until domestic pressure built up on Obama after the first week of October 2014, then this makes a cold sort of imperial sense. The goal wasn’t to stop IS from taking Kobane. In fact, IS was supposed to take it; that would make the Turks happy, and the resulting horror pictures of the massacre that would ensue would shut up any domestic opposition to bombing the Hell out of Iraq, the theater the US really worries about. The strikes were meant as a show of fake good will, so to speak—kinetic good will that would send a lot of desert flying into the air without dislodging IS, and bleed IS a little in the process.
The US government remains way more eager to try to create a multi-ethnic Iraqi army with major Sunni participation than to help the Kurds free themselves from the Arab Sunni-Shia civil war. The Kurds are treated as pawns, not as important chess pieces. How foolish. The effort to build an effective military and modern nation-state in Iraq is a hopelessly naive undertaking by DC elites that don't want to get their minds around just how different mind sets are in the tribal Islamic Middle East.
It’s in the Middle East, however, that the prevailing liberal worldview has proved most consistently misguided. At bottom, it may be western leaders’ inability to think outside this melioristic creed that accounts for their failure to learn from experience. After more than a decade of intensive bombing, backed up by massive ground force, the Taliban continue to control much of Afghanistan and appear to be regaining ground as the American-led mission is run down. Libya – through which a beaming David Cameron processed in triumph only three years ago, after the use of western air power to help topple Gaddafi – is now an anarchic hell-hole that no western leader could safely visit.
It is no wonder Rotherham happened.. The willful blindness of our liberal secular faithful is a sight to behold.
Will Ukrainians Become Less Russian?
Entire clans living on opposite sides have stopped speaking to each other.
Many Ukrainians describe how their Russian relatives, watching TV, frantically called to tell them: “We will save you! Come to Russia!” The Ukrainians said they responded with some version of: “What do you mean, save us? You are killing us and stealing our land.” The ensuing breach has rarely been repaired.
Let me ask a broader question: which nationalities are undergoing the biggest shifts in their views of their own nations and specific other nations? For example, 10 years from now which country in Europe will have the biggest change in attitude? Over what?
Another example: will attitudes in the Middle East shift so much that permanent changes in national boundaries will happen? Kurdish nationalism is growing. But its potential to alter the geopolitcal landscape is limited by the productive capacity of the Kurdish people. Contrast it with China today or Germany when Bismarck united. The Kurds have way less capacity to cause disruption. They need to ride on disruption caused by others.
Think about each region of the world. Which group could cause the most disruption in the next 20 years?
By estimating that zero stimulus would be consistent with a 10 percent quarterly drop in equities, they calculate it takes around $200 billion from central banks each quarter to keep markets from selling off.
What's curious about this: the central banks can do this without setting off 1970s style inflation in Western economies. What if they stopped? Would the world go into recession? Are their injections preventing a world depression? Is the world economy getting more distorted as a result of these injections?
The argument made in the article is that other central banks are stepping up to boost the capital markets as the US Federal Reserve slows up on "quantitative easing".
Will the world economy really go seriously bad if central banks do not keep boosting prices in stock markets?
Does this portend bad things for the world economy in some future year? Are the central banks causing large misallocations of capital? Should we be worried?
A major US counterinsurgency (COIN) strategist during the US troop involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, John Nagl, has written a book trying to argue that the outcomes in those countries do not discredit him and his ideas. Nagl has excuses.
According to Nagl, bad decisions made by civilian policymakers are to blame for what went wrong in Afghanistan, not the overzealousness of counterinsurgency as a magic formula. There weren’t enough troops for an Afghan surge, he complains. The U.S. gave Afghanistan democracy before they were able to handle it. The government in Kabul is too corrupt, the people illiterate, the neighboring Pakistanis untrustworthy.
But when are the Aghans (I use that term as shorthand for a variety of tribes practicing high rates of consanguineous marriage) going to be ready for democracy? To put it another way: when will their culture become so radically transformed that they do not marry their cousins and do not have extremely strong loyalties to extended family at the expense of loyalty to the nation-state? This sort of change is measured in generations and this sort of change hasn't even started yet.
While I'm at it: Is the Pakistani deep state going to change its approach to Afghanistan any time soon in a way that would help start to cause developments (that would require several generations at least) to enable democracy to work well in Afghanistan? Even if Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI wanted the Afghans to become less tribal could ISI cause this transformation? Hint: Pakistan has tribes (including Pashtuns) within its own borders and has limited control in tribal areas.
US strategy is doomed to fail in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and assorted other places where you should not want to live because US strategy is based on mythology about human nature.
Some of you are too young to remember this but once upon a time some US Secretaries of State were very smart and knew stuff about other countries. That really helps. For example, Henry Kissinger makes some obvious observations about Arab Spring:
The Arab Spring is widely presented as a regional, youth-led revolution on behalf of liberal democratic principles. Yet Libya is not ruled by such forces; it hardly continues as a state. Neither is Egypt, whose electoral majority (possibly permanent) is overwhelmingly Islamist. Nor do democrats seem to predominate in the Syrian opposition.
Henry goes on to explain how the Sunni vs Shia divide explains Arab state positions on the Syria civil war better than differing opinions about democracy. His whole essay is a refreshing dose of real politik explained with observations that our elites deny and ignore. Read the whole thing.