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Stratfor: In France, New Attacks Come From Old Problems

Summary: Here Stratfor looks at a seldom-mentioned aspect of the Paris attacks. Their roots lie deep in France’s history, allowing large-scale immigration from its colonies to provide cheap labor for its corporations. Just as American has done. But as Frances’s Jews discovered, France has little ability to assimilate foreigners. It’s slow economic growth makes this even more difficult. Paris was a result.


In France, New Attacks Come From Old Problems

By Mark Fleming-Williams, Stratfor, 22 November 2015

On the evening of Friday, Nov. 13, eight people armed with assault rifles and suicide vests attacked several targets in Paris, killing 129 civilians. At least five of the attackers were French nationals and two were Belgians; all eight appear to have been radical Islamists, and the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks. French President Francois Hollande declared the killings to be an act of war and immediately scaled up France’s military operations, primarily by increasing its airstrikes in Islamic State territory. Taking advantage of a temporary state of emergency, French police have conducted more than 100 raids each night since the attack as they track down suspects.

While the attacks are obviously shocking, they probably will not have the same transformative effect as other major incidents such as 9/11 or the Madrid bombings, which led the states that were targeted to change their strategies. (9/11 prompted the United States to invade Afghanistan and ultimately Iraq, while the Madrid bombings persuaded Spain to withdraw its troops from Iraq.) By comparison, the French attacks, which are more akin to the July 2005 bombings in the United Kingdom, will likely accelerate the strategies France already had for achieving its domestic and foreign interests.

Domestic Concerns

From France’s perspective, the most immediate concern the Paris attacks raise is that French citizens were killed. Any government that fails to protect its citizenry risks being replaced, meaning that officials must work quickly to neutralize the attackers before doing the same for any accomplices who were directly involved. Then the government must try to prevent similar attacks from taking place in the future. The first two of these actions are already well underway, and progress toward the third is evident. Hollande has asked to extend emergency powers for three months, to deploy an extra 5,000 police officers over the course of two years, and to amend the constitution to broaden surveillance powers. By all appearances, France seems to be on the verge of becoming a closely watched state in the coming years — much like the United Kingdom, which has one surveillance camera in place for every 11 Britons.

The Nov. 13 attacks also play into domestic politics, and the government will want to be seen avenging its citizens and punishing the offending party for its actions. This appears to be a large part of the motivation behind Paris’ increased bombings of Islamic State targets overseas. Hollande is the leader of the center-left Socialist Party, which traditionally takes a softer line on social, security and privacy issues and is therefore vulnerable to recriminations from the public that it has not done enough to protect French citizens. Adding to this problem, France has experienced other terrorist attacks this year, most notably in January when gunmen attacked the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, and people expected the government to have learned from these experiences in addressing security threats.

Regional elections in December will give voters across the country a chance to show their displeasure with the government’s response, making the situation even more urgent for Hollande. The anti-immigration National Front has enjoyed a surge in support in recent years, with party leader Marine Le Pen polling strongly ahead of the 2017 presidential election. For the more moderate voter, there is also the center-right Republicans party headed by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. The former president has long divided public opinion with his tough stance on immigrants and security, which dates back at least to his time as France’s interior minister in the early to mid-2000s.

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Our magical thinking about ISIS, and shallow thinking about the Long War.

Summary: As we lurch in a second phase of our mindless Long War, we lack the excuse of ignorance that led to our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. After 14 years of war, a host of voices — people with a wide range of relevant expertise — explain the folly of our actions. Here is an excerpt from an article well worth reading about the West’s shallow thinking — almost certain to end with our tears.


Excerpt from “Magical Thinking about Isis

Adam Shatz, London Review of Books, 3 December 2015

What most of the jihadis appear to have in common is a lack of any serious religious training: according to most studies, there is an inverse relationship between Muslim piety and attraction to jihad. As Olivier Roy, the author of several books on political Islam, recently said, ‘this is not so much the radicalisation of Islam as the Islamicisation of radicalism.’

By sending a group of French – and Belgian – citizens to massacre Parisians in their places of leisure, IS aims to provoke a wave of hostility that will end up intensifying disaffection among young Muslims.

… France has been using {its} weapons more frequently, more widely, and more aggressively in recent years. The shift towards a more interventionist posture in the Muslim world began under Sarkozy, and became even more pronounced under Hollande, who has revealed himself as an heir of Guy Mollet, the Socialist prime minister who presided over Suez and the war in Algeria.

It was France that first came to the aid of Libyan rebels, after Bernard-Henri Lévy’s expedition to Benghazi. That adventure, once the US got involved, freed Libya from Gaddafi, but then left it in the hands of militias – a number of them jihadist – and arms dealers whose clients include groups like IS. France has deepened its ties to Netanyahu – Hollande has made no secret of his ‘love’ for Israel – and criminalised expressions of support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.​

In one of his last interviews, Tony Judt said:

When Bush said that we are fighting terrorism ‘there’ so that we won’t have to fight them ‘here’, he was making a very distinctively American political move. It is certainly not a rhetorical trope that makes any sense in Europe, [where politicians recognise that] if we begin a war between Western values and Islamic fundamentalism, in the manner so familiar and self-evident to American commentators, it won’t stay conveniently in Baghdad. It is going to reproduce itself thirty kilometres from the Eiffel Tower as well. {From his book Thinking the Twentieth Century.}

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Lies about Thanksgiving have consequences. That we’re so easily fooled has even more.

Summary: Now that the celebrations have concluded, let’s look at the history of Thanksgiving, as sad case study of how America’s history has been stolen and replaced by myths to deceive us. We ignore these lessons at our peril. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Breaking the Myths

A step towards freedom.

Start with the myth about Thanksgiving that has become established in the minds of Americas by decades of right-wing propaganda, as told by Kate Zernike’s famous debunking in the New York Times (2010).

In one common telling, the pilgrims who came to Plymouth established a communal system, where all had to pool whatever they hunted or grew on their lands. Because they could not reap the fruits of their labors, no one had any incentive to work, and the system failed — confusion, thievery and famine ensued.

Finally, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, abolished this system and gave each household a parcel of land. With private property to call their own, the Pilgrims were suddenly very industrious and found themselves with more corn than they knew what to do with. So they invited the Indians over to celebrate. (In some other versions, the first Thanksgiving is not a feast but a brief respite from famine. But the moral is always the same: socialism doesn’t work.) The same commune-to-capitalism, famine-to-feast story is told of Jamestown, the first English settlement, in 1607.

It’s a sad story, showing how we have come to believe stories that are almost an inversion of the truth — told to us for tawdry political actors. Annual debunkings by journalists and historians have had little effect.

Some attempt direct attacks on the liars, such as this by Ben Norton at Salon: “Rush Limbaugh’s ‘The True Story of Thanksgiving‘ is a lie-filled load of stuffing that turns villains into victims” — “Tea Party Thanksgiving mythology bludgeons socialism with lies while covering up capitalists’ genocide of Natives.”

Some do rebuttal with detailed narratives, like the Charles C. Mann’s superbly told account tin the Smithsonian Magazine; “Native Intelligence” (December 2005). Some articles attempt to shock us into awareness, telling the facts in an entertaining way from another perspective. The best of these I’ve seen is Scott Alexander’s brilliant “The Story Of Thanksgiving Is A Science-Fiction Story” (2013).

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Recession Watch: the economic indicators that show what’s coming

Summary: As the expansion ages and growth slows, we should begin to watch for signs that the next recession approaches. Here are some tips for doing so without spending much time at it — avoiding the complacency of Wall Street’s economists and the exaggerated darkness of the popular permabears (such as Zero Hedge). {2nd of 2 posts today.}


What should we watch among the blizzard of economic data? Journalists tend to focus on the numbers most frequently reported, usually about manufacturing and housing. Such as this week’s existing home sales volume (oddly, we don’t similarly obsess over NYSE volume). It’s important for people in that biz, but tells us little about the US economy.

Also big in the news are new home sales, building permits, mortgage applications, and many other housing datapoints. For a simple measure of this industry see total residential construction spending. It shows a continued strong expansion. Tune in next month to see if anything has changed.

Residential Construction Spending

What are the most important economic numbers?

But the often dramatic graphs don’t tell us the importance of those numbers. Here’s one perspective on the big picture…

  • Construction value added: 4% of GDP (housing is 1/3 of this).
  • Goods-producing value added: 19% of GDP (manufacturing is 12% of this).
  • Services value added: 68% of GDP.

Another way to see this relationship: manufacturing new orders were 15% of GDP in 1995; now they’re only 10%. Manufacturers employed 30% of all non-farm workers in 1955; they employ only 9% today. Manufacturing was once the key swing sector of the economy; now we are a services economy. Unfortunately there are few good leading indicators for the service sector. Creating Purchasing Managers Indexes for Services was a creative idea, but untested — and doesn’t make much sense to me: what do they PM’s of service corps do that gives them special insight about the economy?

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Why the turkey is not our national bird, and why America belongs to us

Thanksgiving is one of America’s few meaningful holidays in a nation that has been blessed with incredible natural resources and even more incredible good luck at key points in our history. But our greatest resource is one we have built for ourselves: America’s strong social cohesion. Our ability to stand together has carried us through the severe crises of the past two centuries.

Now a new time of crisis begins, and as always centrifugal forces appear to alienate us from our past and from each other. This makes us easy to lead.

Thanksgiving offers an opportunity to remember who we are, coming together to celebrate — and recall our shared history and remember that America belongs to us. No matter how powerful our foes, foreign and domestic, we can are responsible for America and the ability to win.

See Christopher Lasch’s work for an intellectual analysis of this, especially The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (1994). For a musical explanation suitable for Thanksgiving see the “The Egg” by Sherman Edwards from the play “1776”. It explains why we have the eagle as our national bird — not the turkey or the dove. It’s well worth five minutes of your time.

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

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We live in the now. That makes it difficult for us to learn.

Summary: Can we cope with the challenges of the 21st century? If not, why? These are among the questions most worth asking, although lost in the tide of factoids and daily trivia that fill the news. Here are some examples that suggest one of our core problems: we live in the now and so find it difficult to remember and learn from experience.

It's always Now on this watch

Five years ago 24 conservatives — economists, investment advisers, academics, and others — write an open letter to Chairman Bernanke warning that ” The planned asset purchases {QE2} risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.” Time has proven their analysis almost totally wrong. A post by Brad DeLong (Prof economics, Berkeley) asks and answers an important question about this episode…

Justin Wolfers asked if any of the signers to this took their much-deserved reputational hit for signing it, or whether any of them have provided any sort of apologia.

The answer is “No: reporters somehow quote them, but do not ask them why they got it so wrong in late 2010. Reporters do not ask them how they have revised their visions of the Cosmic All as a result of getting it wrong. Reporters remain eager to take their quotes down and publish them as if they were the informed views of experts.”

And the other real shame — besides the journalistic one of pretending that this embarrassment never happened and continuing to burnish the reputation and media presence of the signers — is that, to my knowledge at least, not a single one of the signatories has gone back and explained {why they were wrong}. Marking their beliefs about the world to market is just not something that any of these people ever do.

This is a serious problem affecting America’s ability to see and understand the world (aka our Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loop). As DeLong, Paul Krugman, and others have noted, conservative economists have predicted rising inflation (even hyperinflation) and a falling US dollar repeatedly during the past six years (e.g, Obama making the US into Zimbabwe) — yet the same people still remain experts to journalists — considered gurus by conservatives.

Fourteen years ago the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Twelve years ago the US invaded and occupied Iraq. Both expeditions were expensive failures in terms of their goals and any rational calculation of costs and benefits. Yet the civilian and military architects of these fiascos retain their status as experts, gracing our TV screens with new rounds of probably disastrous advice.

What happened to those stoking hysteria about Ebola in America? Or to those describing the OPM hack as devastating to US national security (89 weeks since the first hack and still no visible effects)?

You can make your own list of such things. It is easy to make a long one.

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Recession Watch: Falling Commodity Prices to Hurt America

Economic indicators are like biosigns of a living organism. They signal changes in complex systems that we cannot directly say and don’t well understand. The top rule is that rapid change in key indicators shows destabilizing forces at work, despite the complacency with which they’re usually seen by economists.

We see this in the on-going collapse of commodity prices. This has beneficial effects on America, but signals rising global stress — both political and economic — that might bite us hard. See my analysis of this at Wolf Street…

Recession Watch: Falling Commodity Prices to Hurt America

A leading indicator of trade, economic growth, and geopolitical instability

A hard landing for the Hindenburg