Is victory impossible in modern wars? Or just not possible for us?

Summary: Slowly America begins to absorb lessons from our fails in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet as with Vietnam we prefer not to see too deeply. Mark Kukis at aeon gives us another incisive analysis of modern war that misses the mark, and so sets us up for the next failed war.  {2nd of 2 wars.}

The Arch of the Victory in Genoa

The Arch of the Victory in Genoa

Recommended reading: “The myth of victory” by Mark Kukis at aeon

“War isn’t like it used to be. Victory is more elusive & a strong military doesn’t count as much.”

Mark Kukis knows this subject well, having covered our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the major media and author of Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009, and covered the Afghan and Iraq wars for Time, The New Republic and Salon. This fall he and Andrew Bacevich will work on an open online course, “War for the Greater Middle East”.

I agree in spirit with this brilliant article. But his analysis repeats the mistakes of the previous military reform movement that burned brightly but was proven ineffectual by our wars after 9/11. In that sense it’s similar to the also excellent article by James Fallows in January’s The Atlantic, as I described in this post, and later here. They are complex, academic in nature, unfocused, and obscure the important lessons. They’re guaranteed to have little effect.

Refusal to learn

Kukis begins, as those advocating reform usually do, by stating the problem: America’s refusal to recognize the changed nature of modern war (aka 4th generation war, non-trinitarian war).

How could the Taliban have bested the United States? A more uneven military contest is scarcely imaginable when you consider the state of the two factions on the eve of 9/11. Before the US invasion, the Taliban had an army of roughly 30,000. Taliban forces hardly qualified as a real army, though. They operated more like a decentralised militia scattered around a mountainous country, with few roads and no communications of any kind. They had no officers. A rotating crew of regional commanders oversaw garrisons around the country. Most fighters went unpaid except for the occasional handout from a commander before they went on leave.

In the US, meanwhile, armories bristled with sophisticated weaponry and equipment. {Etc, — we have lots of stuff, more and better stuff than anyone, anywhere, anytime.}

After this strong start he draws a quite fallacious conclusion, based on a strawman assumption.

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Economists show the perils and potential of the coming robot revolution

Summary: History shows that we oddly focus on small changes coming while ignoring the larger one, because they are truly revolutionary and hence difficult to see and understand. So it is with the third industrial revolution, the oddest so far — and likely to be the biggest. This post shows that some of our top economists have begun to describe what’s coming. As usual with power, it’s great news if we manage it well and potentially horrific if we don’t.  We time to get ready. {1st of 2 posts today.}

Julie Hagerty & Leslie Neilsen in "Airplane!" (Paramount Pictures)

The reality will not be funny. Julie Hagerty & Leslie Neilsen in “Airplane!” (Paramount Pictures)

Robots Are Us: Some Economics of Human Replacement

By Jeffrey D. Sachs (Prof Economics, Columbia), Laurence J. Kotlikoff (Prof Economic, Boston U), Seth G. Benzell, and Guillermo LaGarda.
29  March 2015.

Abstract

Will smart machines replace humans like the internal combustion engine replaced horses? If so, can putting people out of work, or at least out of good work, also put the economy out of business? Our model says yes. Under the right conditions, more supply produces, over time, less demand as the smart machines undermine their customer base. Highly tailored skill- and generation-specific redistribution policies can keep smart machines from immiserating humanity. But blunt policies, such as mandating open-source technology, can make matters worse.

Opening

Whether it’s bombing our enemies, steering our planes, fielding our calls, rubbing our backs, vacuuming our floors, driving our taxis, or beating us at Jeopardy, it’s hard to think of hitherto human tasks that smart machines can’t do or won’t soon do. Few smart machines look even remotely human. But they all combine brains and brawn, namely sophisticated code and physical capital. And they all have one ultimate creator – us.

Will human replacement – the production by ourselves of ever better substitutes for ourselves – deliver an economic utopia with smart machines satisfying our every material need? Or will our self-induced redundancy leave us earning too little to purchase the products our smart machines can make? Ironically, smart machines are invaluable for considering what they might do to us and when they might do it.

… Our simulated economy – an overlapping generations model – is bare bones. It features two types of workers consuming two goods for two periods. Yet it admits a large range of dynamic outcomes, some of which are quite unpleasant.

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A China briefing from one of the West’s best-connected experts

Summary:  This post provides a deep briefing about China from a major expert. It’s long and somewhat technical, but of the quality that executives and officials pay a lot to get.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Globe and China Flag

China Visit: May 2015

Simon Hunt Strategic Services
Economic & Copper Advisory Services

Posted with his generous permission.

Summary

  1. The depth of the leadership’s intent to reform the country’s financial system, restructure industry and to internationalise the RMB (its currency) is largely unappreciated and/or misinterpreted by the media and investors.
  2. What is starting to take place is nothing more than reshaping the country and in so doing that of the world.
  3. To understand how serious and widespread will be this transformation we must have an idea of President Xi’s own philosophiesandobjectives.Theycentre around four dynamics:-
    • He sees himself as the saviour of the party and the country since corruption had grown so deep and widespread that it threatened social stability.
    • By reaching back to Mao’s Mass Line philosophy he has got the middle class and the greater mass of population on his side even though others may seek opportunities to unseat him. He has probably got enough cards in his hands to stop any such move.
    • The President wants to develop a more equal society where the income and wealth divide are narrowed. The future of the real estate sector is fundamental to this change. No significant rescue will be mounted so allowing private sector developers to fend for themselves with the State sector being readied to prevent any crash in prices.
    • The president is shifting the country to the left of centre implying that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) will become the cornerstone of growth with the private sector encouraged to join the state sector.
  4. There is an international timetable that the leadership must work within to effect this transformation. It is the autumn meeting of the IMF where once again the proposal to allow China’s currency to join the IMF’s special drawing rights ( SDR) comes up for Board approval.
  5. America and Japan between them have 23.3% of the votes. China is playing hard ball with the remainder to ensure that the resolution is passed.
  6. To help the proposal being passed China will open up its capital account and will make the RMB at least partially convertible by the time of the meeting, at least enough to satisfy the requirements of the IMF articles.
  7. Other moves will mean that credit conditions will be tight in the second half of the year forcing bankruptcies and failures to accelerate as an essential part of bringing price power back to the manufacturing sector.
  8. Fiscal policy is focusing on very specific infrastructure projects that will bring added value to the country; and the currency will appreciate against its trade weighted index.
  9. The implications of a successful SDR resolution will be widespread internationally and domestically in China.
  10. One such implication is that central banks and financial institutions will have to sell dollars to make way for the RMB. Another is that de facto the dollar will start losing its dominant role in trade financing.
  11. Another is that India supports China’s view that a Washington centric world is no longer appropriate for world stability and that a multipolar world should be structured.
  12. China’s monetary policy continues to be prudent. The cuts in required reserve ratios (RRRs) are not intended to stimulate the economy but to help liquefy the banks given the huge demands on them for additional working capital and because they know what is coming down the line.
  13. Real interest rates remain very high given that PPI fell by 4.6% in March implying that real interest rates were 10.8% in March. Credit remains very difficult within the SME sector.
  14. The cuts in interest rates are partially for this reason and because with the opening up of the capital account interest rates must fall towards international levels or risk a serious inflow of capital.

In summary, the leadership is putting China on the road to greatness but having first to suffer the consequences of previous governments’ love affair with credit.

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The psychopathic leaders of America

Summary: Slowly we begin to hear the warnings about our leaders. America is not a meritocracy, and our system promotes people with the traits of psychopaths. A cold hard insight that can help us choose better leaders for our future. {1st of 2 posts today.}

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
Speech by union leader Nicholas Klein (1918).

 

This is a good step for America: “Why It Pays to Be a Jerk” by Jerry Useem, The Atlantic, June 2015 — “New research confirms what they say about nice guys.” Useem shows us harsh facts about America through a soft filter, as the author sells this to us as a good thing.

But it’s a start at progress to see the reality behind the fantasies we used to believe about our leaders.

This news about their character is nothing new to anyone who has dealt with Americans at the top tier of our hierarchies — celebrities, senior corporate officers, and politicians. This has been my experience. What’s new is our recognition of it.

Psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley identified the characteristics of psychopathy, as defined by in his famous 1941 book The Mask of Sanity. Psychology has evolved since then, but this list still services as a good introduction. These are the traits of our leaders, the inner party who run America (and whose upper ranks advance to the bourgeois (the 1% who own America).

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How can we honor our vets on Memorial Day?

Summary: How should we honor the sacrifices made by our veterans, past and present.? After 150 years of frequent wars, as the last of our troops return from Afghanistan, as the military begins the long post-war downsizing, we need to up our game. Memorial Day is the day to begin.

This year the FM website has 3 posts to commemorate it…

(1) See our victory in WWII by what didn’t happen afterwards” by Martin van Creveld.

(2) On Memorial Day let’s admit what we’ve done to America & begin its reform.

(3) An for Memorial Day, here’s a post from the archives…

The price paid for our wars

The price of our wars

 

Contents

  1. Who started Memorial Day?
  2. Four ways to celebrate Memorial Day
  3. Another perspective on Memorial Day
  4. Something else to ponder on Memorial Day

 

(1) Origin of the Memorial Day holiday

The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization composed of veterans who served in the American Civil War. Here is their General Order No.11, issued on 5 May 1868:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

For 16 years I led Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts on Memorial Day to plant flags on graves. That’s an appropriate thing for children to do. But the US has been at war much of the past 150 years, and that’s no longer sufficient for its citizens. The toll of the crippled and dead have grown too long. We should redefine our obligations to our veterans, living and dead.

Blue Star Moms

(2) Four ways to celebrate Memorial Day

(a) Support our troops

{Click here to read the full post}

America created ISIS, and other clickbait!

Summary: We consume news in unprecedented amounts via the information superhighway, yet we know so little. Smart people have learned to convert hard news into clickbait (exciting fiction), which people we trust then disseminate (the same process spreads urban legends). It’s advertising revenue for them but clouded minds for us. Either we learn to click through to sort truth from exaggerations and misrepresentations — or we get stop reading sources that don’t deserve our trust (no matter how flattering to our ideology.Clickbait  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

 

Contents

  1. Exciting News!
  2. Real News
  3. Actual Intelligence
  4. For More Information
  5. 20th C Headlines written as Clickbait

 

(1)  Exciting News!

Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US ‘Created’ ISIS As A ‘Tool’ To Overthrow Syria’s President Assad” at Zero Hedge. Wow! Pulitzer Prize material of the sort to change your view of the world. Their stories are reposted at hundreds of websites, and seen by thousands or millions of people. It cites as a source a story only a fraction of readers will click through to see…

(2)  Real news

Pentagon report predicted West’s support for Islamist rebels would create ISIS
Anti-ISIS coalition knowingly sponsored violent extremists to ‘isolate’ Assad, rollback ‘Shia expansion’” by Nafeez Ahmed at Medium. After this opening it gets a bit exaggerated, but it’s journalism (not clickbait fiction). Opening…

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The Texas drought ends; climate alarmists wrong again!

Summary: The climate alarmists described the Texas drought in extreme terms, as the New Normal. Readers of the FM website saw the other side of the news — the science side — in Key facts about the drought that’s reshaping Texas. Now we see what looks like the end of the story. It’s a pleasant ending for everybody — excerpt for the alarmists (wrong, again).  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Southern Drought Animated, 21 May 2015

Texas was so over

Here are a few typical remarks about the Texas drought; red emphasis added.

John Nielsen-Gammon (Texas state climatologist and prof atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M): “This drought has almost singlehandedly put an end to the trend of reduced drought frequency and intensity that Texas had been experiencing. … The [continuing] drought of 2011–20xx has taught us something we didn’t know: Rather than being a thing of the past, Texas drought can be worse than we imagined.”  {Texas Climate News, 12 October 2013}

Texas Climate News sought out the state’s finest climatologists, oceanographers and public-policy experts. If nothing else, their responses make clear that the Lone Star State is headed for a new normal. Pretending it isn’t happening is not a viable option.”  {Dallas Observer, 14 October 2013}

Fear in a Handful Of Dust” by Ted Genoways, The New Republic: “Climate change is making the Texas panhandle, birthplace of the state’s iconic Longhorn, too hot and dry to raise beef. … environmental activists and reporters began to ask whether “drought” — a temporary weather pattern — was really the right term for what was happening in the state, or whether “desertification” was more appropriate. … ‘If climate change is the real deal then the human race as we know it is over’.

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