Category Archives: Other Issues

Posts on many other important geopolitical issues.

We worry about rule-breaking by the underclass, not the upper class

Summary: The daily press gives us lurid tales of the underclass breaking social norms, but seldom does so about the more serious lost professionalism that helps the upper class. Before we tinker with American society to reverse our rising inequality, we should understand the processes that created this problem. I believe we not only don’t understand the causes, we don’t even clearly see the deep changes in American society during the past few decades — during the Boomers’ years. This is another post about our poor vision of America.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Our Broken Society

Content

  1. Breaking social norms.
  2. Loss of professionalism.
  3. Rise of self-interest in other occupations.
  4. Conclusions.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  Breaking social norms

We talk a lot about underclass break society’s behavioral norms. In his 1986 book Beyond Entitlement Lawrence Mead (Prof Pol Sci, NY U) taught us to fear their increasingly “dysfunctional” behavior: criminality, drug use, promiscuity, out-of-wedlock births, excessive rates of divorce, etc. Sadly we seldom notice the breaking of norms occurring just as strongly in the upper classes — with greater effect on our social cohesion and level of inequality.

(2)  Loss of professionalism. Broken professions.

Like the word “gentleman”, the meaning of “professional” has eroded away to a bland sense of well-behaved. Managing conflicts of interests was a major factor distinguishing professionals from other trained people. For example, doctors, accountants, and attorneys balanced their clients’ interests vs. theirs as business people vs. those of society. Attorneys were expected to act as “officers of the court”. In an epidemic doctors were expected to place the public’s health above that of the patient’s and their own. Accountants were to maintain the integrity of the financial reporting system that guides the money flows of our society.

These standards were often honored in the breach — America was never Heaven — but during my lifetime they have collapsed. What’s happened in medicine and law clearly shows the problem and the result.

In the early 1980’s doctors realized they the controlled America’s health care checkbook, and could leap from affluent to wealth by “optimizing” their practice: bringing in-house diagnostic and out-patient services and then over-utilizing them, taking de facto bribes from drug and medical device companies, and in a hundred other ways. Conferences and articles gave step-by-step instructions, and their incomes rose — varying widely by specialty, skyrocketing for the most aggressive doctors (see this paper, and a later one).

Only slowly did the pushback arrive, the current push to disenfranchise them — turning decision-making over to the HMO’s, enmeshing doctors in paperwork, authorizing less-trained technicians to do aspects of their work, and eventually automating much of their work.

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Are government workers America’s dumbest people?

Summary:  Today a journalist explains that government workers are “America’s dumbest people.” It’s an episode from social media, the stages of our time on which people dance out their values and beliefs. These conversations provide a mirror in which we can see western society, and from which we can deduce the hidden forces molding our society.

Bainbridge Colby on hatred and faction

A conversation about our polarized time

A good story starts with the action. AP: “Federal Government Suffers Massive Hacking Attack“. Next we turn for a reaction from a notable journalists on Twitter, a intelligent person whom I respect. It’s a trivial vignette, but telling about our time (and the 2nd such conversation I had this week on Twitter). He tweets the AP story with this framing…

“Dastardly Chinese discover identity of America’s dumbest people. So what are they going to do with this knowledge?”

This is a commonplace of our time — quite daft but stated as obvious fact even by intelligent, educated people. Much like belief that Bush Jr. is like Hitler, Obama is like Lenin, Blacks are inferior (or degenerates), or 97% of scientists believe that anthropogenic global warming will prove catastrophic by 2100 if not stopped. What happens when these people have their belief questioned?

My reply: “Is that a statement of tribal identity? Does it seem sensible or funny otherwise?” His reply…

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News from England on the great experiment about gun rights

Summary: Together the UK and US are running one of the greatest social experiments in history, testing different ways to maintain internal order. The test of capitalism vs. socialism produced definitive results; perhaps this one will as well. If so, let’s hope the cost to the loser will be less than suffered by the socialist and communist states.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Ask The Police

For decades UK public policy has strived to eliminate from public use guns and knives. Only the State can protect you. Subjects of the crown still have a right to self-defense (here is a clearer explanation). American right-wingers often get this wrong.

Simultaneously the US has gone in the opposite direction by eliminating restrictions on both concealed and open carry of guns — including rifles — and in some States even broadening people’s right to shoot others for flimsy reasons (“stand your ground” laws).

Time will tell which works better. The cost of the American experiment is paid in blood by those shot by accident, those who shoot themselves (a 7 year is the 360th so far in 2015), and those are shot in anger (made easy by our lightly regulated gun markets).

Today we look at developments in the UK, with helpful advice from their police about your right to defend yourself as a subject of the Queen. There is an important limit on your right to self-defense: not with weapons. Red emphasis added in the following excerpt.

Helpful advice brought to you from the website of the Police of England & Wales

Ask the police about self-defnese

The only fully legal self defence product at the moment is a rape alarm. These are not expensive and can be bought from most local police stations or supermarkets.

There are other self defence products which claim to be legal (e.g. non toxic sprays), however, until a test case is brought before the court, we cannot confirm their legality or endorse them. If you purchase one you must be aware that if you are stopped by the police and have it in your possession there is always a possibility that you will be arrested and detained until the product, it’s contents and legality can be verified.

However, accepting there is a lot of concern about street crime, we can try to clarify matters a little by putting forward the following points.

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Another day in America, another exaggerated threat: about EMP weapons

Summary: A new day, a new fear barrage on America. Today we’re told to wet our pants in fear of North Korea or terrorists detonating a nuke to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to burn out our weapons (as opposed to using it to destroy a city). The threat-mongerers exaggerate the danger, but more interesting is how experts debunking the threat are filtered out of the new media. It’s worth looking at this process. Perhaps understanding it can help us resist the propaganda and more successfully see the world.   {2nd of 2 posts today.}

The time left to prepare against EMP attacks is running out — as it has been since 1982.

EMP attack

America has experienced a fear barrage that might be without precedent in history. Every week the face of another existential threat looms out of the news. We’re urged to wet our pants and fund — but not question — the Deep State, the only force that can save us.

Today’s fear barrage is an oldie from the early 1980s: “The Threat to Melt the Electric Grid“, Henry F. Cooper & Peter Vincent Pry, op-ed in the WSJ, 30 April 2015 — “An electromagnetic-pulse attack from North Korea or another U.S. enemy would cause staggering devastation.” Cooper is the former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative (another boondoggle). Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security (a privately funded group; we can guess at by whom). Their websites are here and here.

The threat of EMP’s has been debunked many times. But only in the back pages. Experts know that speaking against the fear narratives gets one blackballed from the defense gravy train and blacklisted by journalists. Only the threat mongers, the warmongers, get attention.

The Wall Street Journal shows how the propaganda narrative works. There is a large body of analysis showing that the EMP threat is grossly exaggerated, especially versus the serious ones we face. For details see these posts about EMPs: Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons, generating waves of fear in America for 20 years and Renowned Physicists Cast Doubt on Gingrich’s Far-Fetched Scenario about EMP weapons. None of this appears in the WSJ, who give only the warnings. Some examples…

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A clarion call to prepare for cyberwar. But what’s the threat?

Summary:  American professionals writing about national defense are intelligent and well-educated, usually with distinguished careers. But their writings should be datelined “from Oz”. Today we examine another example, about the law of cyberwar.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

CyberCrime

 

Preparing for Cyber War: A Clarion Call

By Michael Schmitt (bio here).
Posted at Just Security, 23 March 2015.

Excerpt:

In every War College in the world, two core principles of military planning are that “hope is not a plan” and “the enemy gets a vote.” Any plan developed without sensitivity to these two maxims is doomed to fail. They apply irrespective of the mode in which the conflict is fought, the nature of the enemy, or the weapons system employed. Unfortunately, some states seem to be disregarding the maxims with respect to cyber operations. They include certain allies and friends around the world, states that the United States will fight alongside during future conflicts. The consequences could prove calamitous, especially in terms of crafting complementary strategies and ensuring interoperability in the battlespace.

… Many states have no position, confidential or public, on when the right of individual or collective self-defense provided for in Article 51 of the UN Charter and customary law applies. Some have yet to maturely grapple with the question of whether international humanitarian law (IHL) applies to cyber operations at all, and for those that have, important questions remain unanswered. These include whether civilian data qualifies as a civilian object enjoying IHL {international humanitarian law} protections, when a cyber operation is an attack in the context of IHL’s assorted targeting rules, and under what circumstances civilians who engage in cyber operations lose their IHL protections from — and during — attacks. Very few states have even considered whether and when a cyber only conflict qualifies as an “armed conflict,” international or non-international, such that IHL applies. This actuality is problematic, since a failure to understand how international law limits or allows cyber operations is a bit like playing football without knowing the rules.

This is sad to read, like so much writing by Americans about geopolitics. It’s not even wrong.

The US (probably with Israel and perhaps other allies) has already made a first strike cyberattack in an undeclared war, on a civilian target (albeit, like so many industrial targets, with dual-use capability). The author ignores this recent history, giving the article an air of unreality — like discussing “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” .

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News good & bad about the fantastic growth of America’s security services.

Summary: We need a sense of proportion when reading the news to avoid being swept away by euphoria on Monday, by despair by Tuesday, and by Friday having forgotten the reasons for both. Today we look at the growth of our police and domestic intelligence services, attempting to put them in perspective with both our history, our present threats, and probable future.  Share your thoughts in the comments.  (2nd of 2 posts today.}

A flag burning

Contents

  1. The Bad News.
  2. The Worse News.
  3. The Worst News.
  4. For More Information

(1)  The Bad News

We’ve expanded the security services at all levels (local, State, Federal), militarizing their equipment and methods. For example there are more armed Federal agents and more Federal SWAT teams, mirroring the expansion at the local and State levels. Plus a massive expansion of their surveillance machinery.  Yet the past 14 years provide almost no evidence that this provided any benefit to America.

Excellent investigative journalism by Trevor Aaronson at The Intercept brings us “The Sting: How the FBI Created a Terrorist“. It’s yet another in a long series of exposes since 9/11 showing how the US security services (no longer “law enforcement agencies”) manufacture threats to keep us frightened. To keep us passive like rabbits as our rights are eroded, and to keep their budgets large and growing.  {For more about this see The US government sponsored jihadist menace.)

Another example is the NY Police Department’s tri-state surveillance of Muslims. Documented over 2 years by the AP; challenged by the ACLU, and (almost inevitably) ruled just fine by the government’s tame judges.

On a larger scale we have the network of over 70 Fusion Centers created by the Department of Homeland Security, providing lavish quarters for multi-agency teams to gather information and produce intelligence. Numerous reports document their near-total ineffectiveness, since there is so little terrorist activity in the US. The latest is a 141-page report by the Senate, which concluded that they have produce mostly “shoddy, untimely and often useless intelligence reports that have done little to keep the U.S. safe.

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“France on Fire”

Summary:  Right-wing extremists in the US warn of jihadists and creeping Sharia, with as  little basis as their warnings of a 5th column during the Cold War). But it is a problem for France, with their larger Islamic populations and lower abilities to assimilate people from foreign cultures. Making a bad situation worse, France has alienated them, treating them as second class citizens fenced into communities ringing their cities. Today we have a status report on the small blaze burning there which might erupt into a wildfire.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Muslims burning French flag

France on Fire

By Mark Lilla
From The New York Review of Books, 5 March 2015.

On January 13, two days after millions in France marched to commemorate those assassinated by Islamist radicals the week before, Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls gave a stirring speech in the French National Assembly that was celebrated by socialists and conservatives alike as among the best in recent memory. He was firm and balanced. He first praised the police and expressed the government’s resolve to put in place security measures to win what he was not shy about calling a “war on terrorism, jihadism, and Islamist radicalism.” He then insisted that France was not at war with a religion and must stand firm on its principles of toleration and laicity — that is, the separation of religion and state. He received a standing ovation. Then, to the nation’s surprise, the deputies broke spontaneously and unanimously into the Marseillaise, the first time this had happened since the signing of the armistice ending World War I in 1918.

On the question of security, this unity is likely to last. There is a solid consensus that more resources will have to be devoted to tracking suspected terrorists and monitoring the Internet for signs of trouble. Legislation will be required to give the government sufficient legal leeway to accomplish that, which it will get, since all parties recognize the deficiencies yet none wants to reproduce the American Patriot Act.

So firm has the government of François Hollande been that the leading conservative opposition party, the UMP, and its mercurial leader, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, have found few plausible grounds for dissent. Even his party’s more muscular demands — isolating Islamists in prison, stripping binational jihadists of their French citizenship, limiting the civil rights of nationals who get involved in jihadist movements (as was done with Vichy collaborators after World War II) — are under serious consideration by the government.

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