Question time on the FM website – chapter 14

Ask any question about geopolitics, broadly defined. We — and others reading the FM website — will attempt to answer it in the comments.   All answers welcomed!

  • Like Jeopardy, your comments must be in the form of a question!
  • Please use the REPLY button when replying to a previous comment, to keep threads together.

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

  1. Will the Dodd-Frank bill prevent bailouts for companies “too big to fail”?
  2. If I were to have dinner with the Obamas, what would be the most important topic to broach?
  3. Does passage of the National Defense Authorization Act mark the death of the Constitution and end of the Second Republic?
  4. What do you feel the consequences of a strike on Iran will be?
  5. Will the European Monetary Union break-up?
  6. America produce a Julius Caesar genius level dictatator before hell freezes over?
  7. What is the likely future of the Taiwan question?
  8. Effect of our latest sanctions on Iran?
  9. Why is your advocay of hard work as a solution to national problems is almost always followed by outraged comments?
  10. A comment about philosophy.
  11. Is it accurate to describe the Republican Party’s leadership as revolutionaries?
  12. Would you mind providing more commentary on your recent post About the mysteries of the 9-11 attack?
  13. There is some food stamp fraud in Central OK — so Newt is right!
  14. Three interesting questions about the (legal) drug industry.
  15. Will NATO surviving in its current form?  Do you think there will be more Libya-style interventions?

Articles of great interest

(a)  Nobody should read these emails and retain confidence in the claims about global warming:

(b)  This looks suspicious:  “LPS Foreclosure Fraud Whistleblower Found Dead“, Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism, 30 November 2011

(c)  What we’ve learned about the G.O.P.

  1. ““I’m convinced that, if NASA were a GSE, we probably would be on Mars today”, Newt Gingrich, 24 April 2007 — See details at Bloomberg.
  2. “People can use food stamps “for anything,” including “to go to Hawaii,” and even millionaires can qualify. – Newt Gingrich, speech in Council Bluffs IO, 30 November 2011 — See a factcheck here.
  3. Paul Ryan’s solution to inequality helps the rich, does nothing for poor“, Greg Sargent, op-ed in the Washington Post, 18 November 2011 — Analysis by Tim Smeeding (Prof Economics, U Wisconsin-Madison)
  4. The Republicans’ Farcical Candidates – A Club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses“, Der Spiegel, 1 December 2011
  5. A look back: Newt’s most outlandish positions“, Justin Elliott, Salon, 2 December 2011 — “Gingrich once called for children of welfare mothers to be shipped off to orphanages”

(d)  The well-publicized shortage of skilled workers is mostly propaganda.  Firms want skilled, experienced workers — but at cheap wages.  There is always a shortage of under-priced “goods”.  A case study of Union Pacific:  “Skilled Jobs Go Begging? Not Quite“, Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, 27 November 2011

41 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website – chapter 14

    1. LOL! ROFWLOL!

      The banks own all three branches of the US government. Congress will pass laws when necessary for the next bailouts. Or the Executive will just do the bailouts without laws — or against the laws. The Courts will approve whatever benefits the banks, unless they get too outrageous (then small penalties will be levied).

      The Second Republic is dying. In the new order little details like laws are unimportant. Political power is everything.

  1. So I gave a few dollars to win a chance to have dinner with President Obama and the First lady. If I were to win, what would be the most important topic to broach as an average voter?

    1. As where she buys her clothes. Ask for a date with their daughters. Steal a White House ashtray. Otherwise it’s just a free meal. There is nothing useful to ask, IMO.

    2. Oh I don’t know that might be too cynical. If you have the opportunity to converse then you have the opportunity to spread a meme. I’d polish up your elevator pitch for something that matters to you.

    3. A citizen (not someone of “name”) saying a few words to the President over dinner will have zero effect.

      You believe otherwise. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that you’re quite young (or perhaps just young in heart). “Elevator pitches” by strangers almost never have a substantial effect — or even make the target think for more than 5 seconds. That goes 10x for senior leaders, who tend to talk better than they listen.

      All discussions on the FM website about political reform of America consist largely of hopeful comments about magic — with frequent comments declaring surrender and despair. Almost never advocacy of hard work over long durations (other than by me, usually followed by outraged replies).

      This is why we are peons, and will remain peons until our spirits awaken again.

    4. Oh, I’m just young at heart and ever hopeful 8-). I’m going to respectfully disagree, I think it’s not impossible for an elevator pitch to land on its mark.

    5. Please quote me accurately. I try not to use “always” and “never”; it’s a child’s error.

      I said: “I think it’s not impossible for an elevator pitch to land on its mark. … That goes 10x for senior leaders, who tend to talk better than they listen.”

      You reply with a characture: “I think it’s not impossible for an elevator pitch to land on its mark.”

      Yes, anything is possible (“not impossible” means possible). But magnitudes matter, one of the major themes on the FM website. Your question was about an unimportant stranger pitching the President about important public policy. The odds of success are microscopic — or less.

      This is why I refer to people putting their hope in such unlikely things — rather than long-term hard work — as hoping for magic. It’s not literally the same thing, but close.

  2. Does passage of the National Defense Authorization Act mark the death of the Constitution and end of the Second Republic?

    Yes. It’s the end of the Second Republic (under the Constitution). This week the core protections were stripped away; what remains is of little importance without those protections.

    The Constitution died from neglect. Each chuck was ripped away in full daylight. Few cared. No protests. We snooze, we lose.

    For details see Another bill before Congress pushing the USA further into the dark of endless war, stripping away our liberties.

    “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
    — John Philpot Curran, “Speech On the Right of Election” (1790)

    1. My guess is that there will be no explicit attack on Iran. Israel and the US are already waging a covert and undeclared war on Iran (it’s a global battlefield, and the only rules are our rules).

      That puts a different perspective on the narrative fed to Americans: crazy Iran and the calm steady defenders of Israel and America. In fact we’re waging a high-risk war on Iraq, with little evidence that Iran is building nukes (even the new IAEA regime, under massive US pressure, has only given weak support for our claims). Assassination of their scientists. Sabotage of their installations. Stuxnet (staging the first cyber attack).

      The calm and restrained player is Iran. They have given a restrained and calm response to our provocative actions. That might not continue forever. THEN things will get more interesting.

    2. Good question. I have no idea.

      What they could do is go for the moral high ground: blame Israel for the attacks, and go for international condemnation — even sanctions. They’d get lots of support.

    1. This is not complex or difficult. The current regime for Europe no longer works. Europe can unify or fragment into two or more pieces. They have not yet decided, and do not know how which path they will take. Either can work, if skillfully executed.

      If they don’t know, we don’t know. Reading the delusionally confident predictions is a waste of time.

      Note that experts often cannot predict outcomes of US presidential elections a year out — in their own nation. Yet folks think they can predict outcomes of far more complex situations in foreign lands. Distance does not create clarity.

    2. The thing is that we’ve heard this song before. In the US it was first organized as a loose federation of states each with their own currency that failed and was replaced with a much stronger federal system. Europe has made the same mistake and hopefully will make it through the same transitional period. I think that the Euro zone will be worse off if it breaks up rather than just going all-in on togetherness.

  3. Now that you think the 2nd republic is dead; Will America produce a Julius Caesar genius level dictatator before hell freezes over? Would you settle for a Fabius Maximus genius level consul?

    1. Arrival of a great genius of any kind is impossible to predict. Let alone its arrival under conditions in which it can flourish.

      Imagine if Caesar was born a Roman peasant instead of into an aristocratic family.

  4. The senate yesterday in a 100-0 vote (Rand Paul must have had a slow day) passed legislation to isolate Iran’s central bank and by implications it’s ability to sell oil. This to me sounds like a way to shoot ourselves in the foot since if Iran’s ability to supply the the world market is compromised Oil prices will spike and then we along with our trading partners heading for a double dip. Why isn’t anyone else concerned about this? or am i misreading the situation.

    1. Probably because this measure will be ineffectual. The US does not have that degree of control over the world financial system. And our folly (like this) steadily diminishes what leverage we do have.

  5. Why do you think your advocating hard work as a solution to national problems is almost always followed by outraged comments? It seems the dominant ideology of the US is getting something for nothing.

    1. That is perhaps the key queston. I have no idea as to the answer. It’s like a disease that has infected our souls.

      Note to all reading this: does anyone have even a guess as to the answer?

    2. I, for one, feel a pang when “hard work” is advocated as a solution.

      The political system, as it stands, has undergone a sustained period of necrosis, in which the corrupted parts support eachother, so that there’s no place to push that makes sense to me. I see that entrenched interests are so deeply entrenched that I don’t think it’s practical to push in any direction since the oligarchs will always be able to respond in another area. At this point, I suspect that if someone actually made a plausible attempt to lead a popular vote “rebellion” (i.e.: try to get the popular vote out of the hands of the 2-party sham) that effort would be stillborn because a) the popular vote has been largely mooted and b) they’d be declared a terrorist and taken off the table. We are so disempowered that when FM says “hard work” it sounds to me like one of the mice telling me that belling the cat would be “hard work” – indeed, it would be hard. It would be suicidally hard. When I have that realization I wind up vibrating in place (thereby increasing my frustration) because I feel that a popular revolution, and the inevitable dictatorship that follows, would be more likely to succeed than the massively complex reforms that would be needed: at a certain point it’s more efficient to throw the baby out with the bath-water and start a new baby. Yet I don’t think things have gone quite far enough to justify that, yet.

      I am not joking, BTW. I think that the situation will come to pass that it is more plausible to let Madame Guillotine rule the day than to try to fix the situation, simply because the paths to fixing the situation are being deliberately blocked by the oligarchy. Surely they must see that if you leave the people with no hope, they will realize they no longer have anything to lose, and that’s when humans become truly dangerous? I think they are too blinded by their short-term lust for wealth to realize that they’re backing everyone into a corner, themselves included. When The President says that he can order killings of citizens with no process, then why would anyone surrender peacefully in hopes that they’ll have their day in court?

      I agree with FM that “hard work is necessary” but question whether there is any amount of “hard work” that can remedy a ‘representative’ body that represents the banks interest, which has allied itself with the police-state to achieve global monopoly of force against its own citizens, and which has now dispensed with the rule of law. We are dealing with a Gordian Knot of a problem, and Alexander’s solution begins to look like less work than unpicking the strands and re-arranging them. It is exactly this kind of cultural despair that makes a people rally behind a crazed demagogue; the Russians have now become thoroughly Putinized and most of those that I’ve talked with see it as an improvement over the kleptocracy and venality before he came to power. Is it the desire to avoid the “hard work” of rebuilding a political system from scratch without violence that makes a society shrug and elevate a Caesar? I think so. I feel it.

    3. Elections are held every two years. Nobody points guns at us, telling us how to vote. If Americans are too lazy to work the Constitutional machinery, that’s not the fault of the people who use our weakness and folly to seize power. As they say in the Disney movies, it’s the Great Circle of Life.

      This week the Constitution was formally shredded by Congress, in effect ratifying actions of the Executive Branch that had been approved by the Courts. There were no protests. I and others wrote about this, arousing only disinterest. I spoke about it to friends, relatives, coworkers — receiving shrugs. How about those Mets! They’re going to the SuperBowl this year! Did you see last night’s episode of The Latest Ameican Bimbo?

      There is no need to dramatize this, watching for a Caesar on horseback to trot down the Street. Oligarchies are a common and stable form of government.

  6. Well, since you asked…

    During the development of my philosophical world view, I identified a trend in moral development. Nietzsche felt that morality had a genealogy, or that it evolved over time. In the case of the west, and the US in particular, where technology became the new god, I termed this morality “Maximum Advantage.” It is the morality of the machine, where efficiency becomes the ultimate “good.” The drawback to this is that it does not apply well to the human animal, which is inherently inefficient. In addition, when everything is done for maximum advantage the result is probably mediocre as this morality is not capable of providing any guidance beyond exploiting any and everything to Maximum Advantage in all Things. Hence, those enthralled to its dictates (which is pretty much everyone regardless of class or social status) will always look for something for nothing as that is obviously more efficient than working for it. (This says nothing about human values and everthing about machine values.)

    In the US it is most extreme as this country was developed and conquered with technology. The steam engine elevated thermodynamic efficiency beyond mere technological considerations. Efficiency became its own vale. This morality is the result of 19th century positivist determinism as is modern economics. (Keep in mind that this philosophy was discredited by quantum mechanics.) It should have been discredited but has not as there are many vested interests who push this morality on society (similar to a drug pusher) in the form of a Verbal World (per Jacques Ellul). It promises easy linear answers. However, the world is generally non-linear so it is therefore dysfunctional. Hence, the peons want what the elite get (or think they get anyway), which is easy answers to their problems.

    The website Maximum Advantage in all Things — Notes from the Decline of America. “If you can’t bash your own who can you bash?” Propaganda as an art form. The Shadow speaks. The whole is different than the sum of its parts. Things fall apart on their own.

    1. Lots of stuff.

      1. A lot of people are on drugs (there is a scandal about foster children being drugged for “behavior” problems), and the people that make money selling those drugs (legal and illegal) do not want the scam to stop.
      2. Religion is less significant, so the sense of communal bonding is unfulfilled, and sometimes exploited by clever marketing (new age spirituality has this problem to some extent).
      3. Habermas: lifeworld colonized by systems. The elements of lifeworld, culture based on participatory institutions, shared value commitments, local wisdom, etc., that are intertwined with “work” are diminished as “money and power” become the dominant forces in society.
      4. Ivan Illich explained this is visceral terms (see separate entry). When liberty disappears under attack from the forces of empire, much of the psychic infrastructure (moral structure) that motivates hard work vaporizes, especially given the manner in which people are insulated from nature.
      5. The managerial/executive classes are increasingly psychopathic, and people that work hard are “targeted” because they make the faux-leaders (who are usually incompetent at all tasks other than dehumanizing workers) look bad. As such, the conformism that is ALWAYS promoted by psychopathic managers results in risk-averse organizational culture, and doing hard work is seen as “suspicious” since it promotes the value of the individual worker, not corrupt leaders/paradigms.
      6. Victim of our own success? Technology has made things too easy, and externalized most of the pain from immediate view?
      7. Children, especially of the majority middle classes or above, no longer see their parents work hard (farming, building things, etc.) Machines do most of the farming.
      8. Cheap/illegal Immigrants do most of the remaining hard work and are exploited. e.g, the recent construction boom: cheap immigrant labor actually built much of the houses in the “boom”, but most of the profit went to clean, well dressed, well educated, but morally corrupt wealthy people in offices manipulating financial “instruments”.
      9. Thus — hard work is associated (subconsciously?) with the unpleasantness of exploitation. In a PC culture, this means that the issue “disappears” from awareness due to its unpleasantness?
      10. No one can make money in advertising by promoting hard work because of its association with “uncool” culture.
      11. Men no longer work hard (especially in a feminized educational system) since their role as “providers” has been diminished. FM has material on this issue on this blog. Men no longer see honor in fighting for something beyond self-interest. (defense is an industry full of careerists/psychopaths.)
      12. Consumerist culture does not “value” productivity. Bureaucracy does not value hard work. Hard work is something that slaves do in an imperial society, not the refined/superior classes. The delusion for the “99%” is that “someone else” is the slave. This is because of a credit card economy.
      13. In a recent study, $5.3 BILLION of unnecessary college financial aid (waste) was found. The ultra-wealthy have learned that they can “get stuff” (lavish financial aid packages for their children) without working hard! The educational establishment has rigged the system so that the executive classes (administrators) rule via corruption and get fat paychecks, no academic freedom is needed any more.
      14. What FM calls “outrage” is at least partly simple disagreement / difference of perspective. FM has adopted the mantra that all evil is *ultimately* located in the individual. James Hillman has explained why this “hidden assumption” exists in much of the american value system, and why it is incorrect.
      15. When people live in a system that dehumanizes them, depression sets in, escape inspires various industries, which then have a disincentive to “promote” reality.
    2. Two corrections

      (1) “FM has adopted the mantra that all evil is *ultimately* located in the individual.”

      Absurd. I never said such a thing. There are evil political systems — even evil social systems. The far narrower point I made was that under our system of Republican Democracy we the people assume responsibility for the government. If we choose not to work the machinery, that does not relieve us of responsibility — collectively and individually. No matter who sophisticaled our whining and excuses.

      (2) “11. Men no longer work hard since their role as “providers” has been diminished.”

      I suggest you get out more, looking at blue-color workers. Fishing, logging, farming, ranching, mining — all require hard work, often under difficult conditions — with high rates of injury and death.

      From the BLS report on Work-related injuries in 2010

      Summary:

      1. Fatal work injuries = 4,547
      2. 774 of those were by foreign-born workers (not necessarily illegals)
      3. By gender: 4,192 (92%) men, 355 (8%) women

      Most dangerous occupations (fatality rate per 100,000 workers per year)
      116 – Fishers and related fishing workers
      92 – Logging
      71 – Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
      42 – Farmers and ranchers
      39 – Miners
      33 – Roofers
      30 – Refuse collectors
      22 – Drivers
      20 – Machinery workers
      18 – Police

  7. Do you find that it would be outlandish to think that the republican leadership are revolutionaries, and are determined upon waging class war on the mass of Americans, with the end result that in despair and confusion the punch drunk citizens will be forced into a new settlement with their leaders?

    1. Very seldom in history do most of the participants in revolutions have that degree of awareness — or such explicit goals.

      In the early 1960s some wealthy conservatives decided to reverse the tide of US political evolution that began with the New Deal. In the 1970s they built much of the political infrastructure to do so — think tanks, advocacy organizations, campus clubs, etc. Since then they have amply and patiently funded this machinery. Patient long-term investing pays off.

      We — the mass of American citizens — have enabled this process by a mixture of guilibity and passivity. They have grown stronger; we have grown weaker. Politics today is little but consolidating their gains and fixing them into the system. The Second Republic is dead. Only large scale action will create a Third Republic.

    1. All I can do is post still more links to articles containing expert opinions about the mysteries of 9-11, the inadequcies of the investigaton, and the questions about the official conclusions. None of which the contented herd will read, least it disturb their complacency.

  8. Central Oklahoma had several local convenience store managers/owners prosecuted for food stamp fraud. The rate of exchange looked to be fifty percent. Sell one’s food stamps and do as one pleases. Buy tickets to Hawaii, sure.

    1. What is your point? Yes, fraud exists in some amount in all programs, public and private. The incident you mention (see story here) hardly supports Newt’s accusation of widespread fraud.

      A large number of investigations have shown low and falling rates of fraud in the food stamp program. Unlike DoD, which has never even passed an audit — and every investigation finds widespread fraud. Does Newt believe we should shut DoD down?

      Here is one of the many investigations, looking at one aspect of the program: “States Have Made Progress Reducing Payment Errors, and Further Challenges Remain“, General Accountability Office, May 2005 — Summary:

      The national dollar payment error rate for the Food Stamp Program, which combines states’ overpayments and underpayments to program participants in all states, has declined by almost one-third over the last 5 years to a record low of 6.63%.

      … Almost two-thirds of food stamp payment errors are caused by caseworkers, usually when they fail to keep up with reported changes or make mistakes applying program rules, and one-third are caused by participant failure to report required, complete, or correct information, such as household income and composition. State officials said program complexity and other factors,
      such as the lack of resources and staff turnover, can contribute to these errors. In fiscal year 2003, states referred about 5 percent of all cases identified with errors for suspected participant fraud investigation.

  9. High oil cost , high coal tar cost — will drug prodution have more volumes problems? are drug companies to choose survival or the common good. Is the wind down now? Alwyn

    1. (1) The current structure of the global drug industry is unsustainable. It’s a broken business model.

      The industry earns roughly 80% of its profits on American sales, part of a health care system we can no longer afford, is becoming increasingly unaffordable (as boomers age), and delivers care equivalent to that of the better systems in Europe at 1/2 to 2/3 of their cost.

      The industry relies on innovation to generate high-margin drugs to support its lavish overhead (including a vast sales and marketing apparatus) and high profits. This is breaking in several ways, such as:

      (a) Break-through drugs are becoming rare, despite large government R&D funding (whose results are captured by private drug companies) and modestly large R&D by the drug companies.

      (b) Without innovations, the drug companies rely on the dysfunctional US patent system (totally captured by and run for large corporations) to sell high-priced “new” drugs that are often small modifications of existing but now generic drugs.

      If the entire US health care system adopted the drug purchasing policy of Kaiser (or other efficient HMOs) — no salesmen, no gifts and junkets for doctors, buying generics unless the brand-name drug offered better performance — then the industry (excluding the generic manufacturers) would go broke.

      (2) There are shortages, mostly symptoms of the slowly breaking drug industry.

      (3) “High oil cost , high coal tar cost”

      Raw material costs are a tiny fraction of the final price of drugs. This is true of most manufacturered goods, even Corn Flakes.

      (4) “are drug companies to choose survival or the common good”

      Under our system — capitalism, free markets — companies and people are expected to choose survival over the common good in their commercial activities — so long as they operate within the law and their personal morality (we have the former since the latter is non-existent for some people)..

  10. Do you see NATO surviving in it’s current form? Do you think there will be more Libya-style interventions in other countries?

    1. (1) Will NATO continue to exist?

      Yes. Institutions usually out-live their original purpose, continuing either as an anachronism (shrinking to some survivable size) OR finding a new purpose.

      The latter is common among governmental agencies. Their original purpose gone, they become retirement homes for well-connected politicans, officials, and military officers.

      Note that this is also seen in biological evolution. Organs such as the appendix no longer have a function, but continue to exist. And new needs for the species are met by modificaton of existing organs.

      (2) Will NATO members do more Libya-style interventions?

      Yes, perhaps using NATO. This might become NATO’s new function, a legitmate-looking entity for neo-colonialist interventions (eg, attempting to establish western-friendly governments in nations with critical raw materials).

      That assumes we can successfully conduct such interventions. I’m skeptical. Our interventions in Iraq and Libya may have replaced secular with Islamic-type governments — against our long-term interests. That we don’t see this yet is more evidence of our leaders’ broken OODA loop.

  11. To your question of why we aren’t willing to do the hard work needed to save our national core:
    I liken our situation to that of a lost backpacker with a gangrenous arm. We keep hoping that just around the next bend we will luck out. We will be saved. Optimism, even blind optimism in the face of adversity is actually a more endearing part of our national character. But soon we will be unable to ignore reality, and I think we are starting to perceive this. Soon the pocket knife will have to come out and the tourniquet will have to be tied and the offending limb severed away. This will not be merely inconvenient. It is not like other unpleasant chores we have undertaken. This is going to be excruciating which is why we look away. If we lack the moxie to proceed we will be consumed by the rot. We are loath to proceed. It is a defining moment but it is not too late. Not yet.

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