Question time on the FM website – chapter 9

Ask any question about geopolitics, broadly defined. We’ll attempt to answer it in the comments.   Links to other episodes appear below.  Like Jeopardy, your comments must be in the form of a question!

But first, our quote of the week (no hints as to what current event this also applies to):

War guilt {can lead to} ever more militant acts of self-justification. Once blood has been shed in dubious circumstances, those involved often try to brazen it out: first, through blaming the injured party for forcing them to act thus; and second, through affirming the validity of their violence by persisting with it.
— From Julia Lovell’s new book The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China

Questions received so far (click on the link to go directly to that thread):

  1. Do you foresee a military intervention against Sryia? As I recall both Syria and the U.S. recalled their ambassadors recently.
  2. What was the most important news story of the week?  {Answer:  this Reuters story about the approach of peak oil}
  3. You’ve written about the break-down of our criminal justice system.  What about attorneys?  Don’t they defend our rights?
  4. What ever happened to Mr. Manning?  Did solitary turn his mind to mush?  It’s been a long time.
  5. Have you seen “Power Of Nightmares”, about the rise of jihadism and neo-conservatism?
  6. Do you believe that the American social safety net, as it currently exists, works?
  7. What was the most enlightening news of the week?  {Answer:  climate scientists explaining that their models do not accurately forecast climate}
  8. What was the most disturbing news story of the week?  {Answer:  police publicly demonstrating their contempt for the law}

19 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website – chapter 9

  1. Do you foresee a military intervention against Sryia? As I recall both Syria and the U.S. recalled their ambassadors recently.

    1. No. We’re drunk with military power, filled with the hubris of running our costly and profitless empire.

      (1) Western powers intervene usually only where there is potential geopolitical or economic gain. Libya and Iraq have oil. Yemen is close to oil. Afghanistan is both geographically critical and has vast mineral wealth. Syria is irrelevant.

      (2) Western nations prefer to attack only the weak. Even better, incompetent and defenseless prey.

  2. The most important news story of the week: “BP, rivals signal rising oil prices over long term“, Reuters, 27 October 2011 — “An increasing number of oil companies are likely to see $100-a-barrel oil as the new norm, a sign the price floor is moving up over the long run”

    The experts I rely upon believe that peak oil is likely within the next three years, probably within five. What happens then might change the course of history. Much depends on length of the production plateau and the rate of decline after peaking. A long plateau (5 – 10 years) and a slow decline rate (3%) would allow a relatively easy adjustment. A short plateau and rapid decline rate (6-10%) would have catastrophic effects.

    The giant fields that have peaked during the past decade (eg, North Sea, Cantarell) have short plateaus and steep (10-13%) decline rates. Global peaking may differ, of course.

    For more about this see One of the top questions for our time: how will Peak Oil affect the economy?

    1. You are easily impressed. This is an almost content-less series of assertions. There is almost nothing there to respond to.

      (1) “Here we have complex, costly technology being applied to the production of a resource that is otherwise getting scarce”

      This is wrong in many ways. To mention just two.

      1. Fracking is not expensive, as it allows production at lower cost than conventional deep drilling, which is why drillers are profitable at $4 mmf.
      2. It is silly to say that something is scarce as its price drops and production surges.

      (2) “There are immense quantities of low-grade fossil fuels in Earth’s crust. Until recently, these were inaccessible for practical reasons.”

      This is the basic rule of geology. Ore quality has an inverse relationship to ore quantity. High prices drive engineering to tap lower quality ores. For details see Recovering lost knowledge about exhaustion of the Earth’s resources (such as Peak Oil).

      This lowers EROI over the short-term; the result over longer periods depends on scientific progress which cannot be forecast. However, there is no reason to doubt that this age-old process will end. Time and economics may force a peak in production, as demand increases faster than capex can increase production to offset declines in conventional production. Economic prosperty will depend on how well we manage this process.

      But this over longer time horizons (several generations at least) our current sources will become as obsolete as buring cow dung. Many new sources are under development in laboratories around the world. Only one need work.

      For more about the economic effects of peaking see One of the top questions for our time: how will Peak Oil affect the economy?

    2. But I think the question is can we run our industrial civilization on increasingly expensive in the long term energy? I mean I keep hearing reports of power rationing in India and China due to coal shortages for whatever reason.

    3. We have been running our global economy on increasingly expensive energy since 1972. Despite this, the past decade has seen some of the fastest global growth since the invention of agriculture.

      There are always areas that have underinvested or otherwise distorted aspects of their economy, so they have shortages of critical goods. Famines, energy shortages. Extrapolating those to a global problem is a favorite tactic of doomsters, but has no analytical basis.

      Note that India and China are growing quite nicely — China especially so — despite the coal shortages.

  3. Question: You’ve written about the break-down of our criminal justice system. What about attorneys? Don’t they defend our rights?

    A few. Most don’t care in any significant fashion. Many support the government’s efforts to destroy our rights. Needless to say, our judges are choosen from the last group. They are an appreciative audience for specious explanations of why the Constitution’s words mean nothing. Many of both groups pretend to be conservatives and libertarians.

    (1) Anwar al-Aulaqi Apparently Killed by Drone in Yemen“, Kenneth Anderson, 30 September 2011 — Excerpt:

    One thing that does appear quite settled as far as the US government’s position is concerned, however, is that it is simply inapposite to talk about this as “summary execution upon nothing more than the order of the President” — it’s simply not the correct legal frame. Ben Wittes names a number of these factors in his Lawfare discussion of the process that is due in this matter. I’d say that among other things, the “summary execution without due process” meme fails to take account of

    1. taking up operational roles in armed conflict against the United States;
    2. fleeing to places beyond the bounds of law enforcement that might serve to arrest Al-Aulaqi if he had been in the territorial US;
    3. the existence of robust domestic legal authorities for undertaking lethal action even against a US citizen (it is not as if this was not understood as a possibility in the Cold War);
    4. acknowledgment that the US was willing to consider ways to accepting surrender and coming into custody that would allow judicial review; an
    5. a lengthy judicial opinion that refused to take a simplistic view of due process in this very case (in either direction, simply targetable combatant or US citizen denied due process) irrespective of whether one thinks the outcome correct or not.

    The first of this list is priceless. The government’s accusations are fact, so he must die. The last is equally sad, tame judges passivity legitimize the government’s executions without warrant or trial.

    (2) Who May Be Killed? Anwar al-Awlaki as a Case Study in the International Legal Regulation of Lethal Force“, Robert Chesney (U of Texas School of Law), Yearbook of International Humanitarian (2010) — Abstract:

    Anwar al-Awlaki is a dual Yemeni-American citizen who has emerged in recent years as a leading English-language proponent of violent jihad, including explicit calls for the indiscriminate murder of Americans. According to the U.S. government, moreover, he also has taken on an operational leadership role with the organization al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), recruiting and directing individuals to participate in specific acts of violence. Does international law permit the U.S. government to kill al-Awlaki in these circumstances?

    Part I opens with a discussion of what we know about AQAP, about al-Awlaki himself, and about the U.S. government’s purported decision to place him on a list of individuals who may be targeted with lethal force in certain circumstances.

    Part II then explores objections to killing al-Awlaki founded in the U.N. Charter’s restraints on the use of force in international affairs. I conclude that a substantial case can be made, at least for now, both that Yemen has consented to the use of such force on its territory and that in any event the conditions associated with the right of self-defense enshrined in Article 51 can be satisfied.

    Part III then turns to objections rooted in IHL and IHRL, beginning with the question whether an attack on al-Awlaki would fall within IHL’s field of application. I conclude that the threshold of armed conflict has been crossed in two relevant respects.

    1. {I}t has been crossed in Yemen itself as between AQAP on one hand and the U.S. and Yemeni governments on the other.
    2. {I}t has been crossed as well with respect to the United States and the larger al Qaeda network – and not only within the geopolitical borders of Afghanistan.

    Building from these premises, I then proceed to consider whether al-Awlaki could be targeted consistent with IHL’s principle of distinction. I conclude that he can be if he is in fact an operational leader within AQAP, as this role would render him a functional combatant in an organized armed group.

    Should the analysis instead turn on IHRL, however, the central issue becomes the requirement of necessity inherent in IHRL’s protection for the right-to-life, and in particular the notion of temporal necessity. I conclude that this requirement is not an obstacle to attacking al-Awlaki insofar as

    1. there is substantial evidence that he is planning terrorist attacks,
    2. there is no plausible opportunity to incapacitate him with non-lethal means, and
    3. there is not good reason to believe that a plausible non-lethal opportunity to incapacitate him will arise before harm to others occurs.

    A second question then arises, however. Must al-Awlaki be linked to a specific plot to carry out a particular attack, or is it enough that the evidence establishes that he can and will attempt or otherwise be involved in attacks in the future without specificity as to what the particulars of those attacks might be? The former approach has the virtue of clarity, yet could rarely be satisfied given the clandestine nature of terrorism. The latter approach necessarily runs a greater risk of abuse and thus perhaps justifies an especially high evidentiary threshold, but in any event it is a more realistic and more appropriate approach (particularly from the point of view of the potential victims of future terrorist attacks).

    1. The Manning episode clearly shows the collapse of the criminal justice system in America — and the cause of its collapse: we no longer care about Constitution. It’s dead in our hearts and minds.

      “{Juan Mendez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture} had sought a meeting with Manning, who is awaiting a court martial, but they failed to persuade U.S. authorities to let them speak privately. Mendez said he planned to issue a report on Manning and other cases in the next few weeks.”
      Reuters, 18 October 2011

      Like a third world tinpot dictatorship, we refuse to allow a UN investigator access to our prisons — the kind of inspections the NAZIs allowed of POW camps during WWII. It’s worse, as the POWs were legally held. Manning has had no trial, let alone been convicted.

      “‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”
      — The Queen speaks of justice in Wonderland

      The invaluable FireDogLake has a timeline of this shameful affair. Manning war arrested on 29 May 2010. They filed charges on 6 July 2010. They have announced no trial date, so he rots in solitary confinement.

      For more about this see The long-term consequences to America of torturing Bradley Manning.


    The first part of the series explains the origins of Islamism and Neo-Conservatism. It shows Egyptian civil servant Sayyid Qutb, depicted as the founder of modern Islamist thought, visiting America to learn about the education system, but becoming disgusted with what he saw as a corruption of morals and virtues in western society through individualism.

    When he returns to Egypt, he is disturbed by westernization under President Nasser and becomes convinced that in order to save society it must be completely restructured along the lines of Islamic law while still using western technology. He also becomes convinced that this can only be accomplished through the use of an elite “vanguard” to lead a revolution against the established order. Qutb becomes a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and, after being tortured in one of Nasser’s jails, comes to believe that western-influenced leaders can justly be killed for the sake of removing their corruption.

    Qutb is executed in 1966, but he inspires the future mentor of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to start his own secret Islamist group. Inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution, Zawahiri and his allies assassinate Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat, in 1981, in hopes of starting their own revolution. The revolution does not materialise, and Zawahiri comes to believe that the majority of Muslims have been corrupted by their western-inspired leaders and thus may be legitimate targets of violence if they do not join him.

    At the same time in the United States, a group of disillusioned liberals, including Irving Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz, look to the political thinking of Leo Strauss after the general failure of President Johnson’s “Great Society”. They come to the conclusion that the emphasis on individual liberty was the undoing of the plan. They envisioned restructuring America by uniting the American people against a common evil, and set about creating a mythical enemy.

    These factions, the Neo-Conservatives, came to power under the Reagan administration, with their allies Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and work to unite the United States in fear of the Soviet Union. The Neo-Conservatives allege the Soviet Union is not following the terms of disarmament between the two countries, and, with the investigation of “Team B”, they accumulate a case to prove this with dubious evidence and methods. President Reagan is convinced nonetheless.

    1. I’ve been watching the “chinese cyberwar” threat be over-hyped, just like the “soviet menace” and “osama bin laden” – the Adam Curtis documentaries seem to me to be making a pretty good case. But here’s the problem I’ve got: how can I tell “our” propaganda from “their” propaganda? What if Curtis is just spouting half-truths intended to make me disbelieve their spouted half-truths?

      I have spent years studying nukes and the cold war and conclude that the soviet menace was not merely over-hyped, it was vastly over-hyped. I know the “chinese cyberwar” story is over-hyped. My inclination is to believe Curtis. But I know that the way propagandists win is by pitching their story so that it’s aimed for the tiniest crack of belief.

    2. As you explain, we cannot know these things. We can only ask “What is truth” and wash our hands.

      But we can make reliable guesses.

      (1) Consider the source of the information. How often have our national security experts lied to us? About the missile gap, the bomber gap, about the Tonkien Gulf incident, about Saddam’s WMDs, about the events on 9-11 (as the members of the 9-11 Commission repeated complained). It’s a very long list.

      (2) What is the relevant history? Propaganda about Islam and Jews has been deployed by western rulers for a thousand years, to justify foreign wars and channel domestic discontent. Perhaps this round of stories is true. On the other hand, casinos and racetrack owners make good money betting on the odds — not against them.

  5. Do you believe that the American social safety net, as it currently exists, works? What do you think of workfare? How does it compare with the more socialist systems used in Europe?

    1. Yes the US safety net “works”, in the usual sense of the word. It provides some protection to the ill, the unemployed, the disabled, etc. People argue that it provides too much or too little, especially vs. the much stronger systems used in Europe. The answer depends on one’s values — and on long-term results which only our descendents will know.

      By most metric the “social net” systems used in the Nordic nations work better than those in the US. But their circumstance differ greatly from ours, making comparisons complex to interpret.

      I have no opinion on workfare.

  6. Answer: climate scientists explaining that their models do not accurately forecast climate. Please read these two articles. They are brief, clear, and enlightening to laypeople who have followed the global warming debate through the news media and blogs.

    (1) Discussion of ‘A comparison of local and aggregated climate model outputs with observed data’ – A black eye for the Hydrological Sciences Journal“, David Huard, Hydrological Sciences Journal, 29 October 2011 — Excerpt:

    The main issue with the AKCEM paper is that it is based on a false premise, namely that the selected climate simulations predict (forecast) climate in a deterministic sense. Climate models may indeed be used in a weather forecasting mode, and this is one way of evaluating their sub-grid scale parameterization at the sub-daily time scale (see for instance section 8.4.11 in Randall et al. 2007). Some are even used to “forecast” climate at the decadal scale (Keenlyside et al. 2008, Smith et al. 2007) using observed oceanic and atmospheric initial conditions, the oceanic inertia constraining the atmospheric model.

    However, these experiments are still considered highly experimental (Keenlyside and Ba 2010) and never claim to correlate with the interannual variability. Climate simulations included in IPCC’s TAR and AR4 also make no pretence of predicting/forecasting weather or climate.

    (2) Scientific dialogue on climate: is it giving black eyes or opening closed eyes?“, D. Koutsoyiannis et al, Hydrological Sciences Journal, 29 October 2011 — Excerpt:

    In fact, it is the IPCC that uses climate model outputs as predictions. Calling these by another name, such as “credible quantitative estimates of future climate change” (Randall et al., 2007, p. 591) does not change the essence.

    For example, in IPCC (2007, Fourth Assessment Report—AR4; Summary for policymakers, p. 15), we read (our emphasis): “It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent”. This is one of a total of six occurrences of the word “will” in a similar context (in the three next pages of the section “Projections of future changes in climate”), the last one being “… anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium”— not to mention the over 20 appearances of expressions such as “it is expected”, “it would”, etc. The same style is adopted in other IPCC documents, including the Freshwater Chapter (Kundzewicz et al. 2007).

    The conviction that climate model outputs are credible predictions for the future propagates beyond IPCC texts, often without mentioning their origin (for which we cannot imagine anything else but climate models). Taking as an example the most cited “climate change” document (as seen by a Google Scholar search), the so-called Stern Review, we may see that in a single page (Stern 2006, p. vi of the Executive Summary) the word “will” appears ten times. The same is also obvious in many papers and conference talks, where sometimes the “projections” are presented as facts.

    Therefore, we are not the right recipients of Huard’s warning not to treat climate model outputs as future predictions. Our difference with standard climate literature is that we show that the predictions cannot be credible and, thus, cannot provide a guide for the future and for policymaking.

  7. Police publicly demonstrating to show their contempt for the law. If our rulers don’t follow the law, why should the Police?

    Policemen Show Up in Force to Support Officers Arrested for Ticket-Fixing“, New York magazine, 28 October 2011 — Excerpt:

    The charges awaiting the arrested police — who count one woman, ten union members, and three officers among their numbers — include obstruction, perjury, and bribery: favor-trading on steroids. Ten of the arrested are officers and prominent members of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the police union, …

    As many as 100 raucous cops turned up at midnight at the Bronx DA’s Office, screaming their support for 15 fellow officers who were scheduled to surrender in the NYPD ticket-fixing scandal. … Their brother officers loudly applauded them as they walked into the building. They also jeered Internal Affairs detectives, whose investigation led to the indictments. “You pussies,’’ shouted one cop at the IAB contingent.

    For more about this topic see:

    1. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice System — Excerpts from The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz
    2. More about the collapse of the American Criminal Justice System — Studies and reports about our shameful system.
    3. Final thoughts about America’s Criminal Justice System

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