Question time on the FM website (& a review of the week). Post your questions and answers!

Summary: It’s “ask a question” time. In the comments “ask the mineshaft”:  post questions about geopolitics — and your answers to other people’s questions.  This is a community exercise, from the German “Gemeinschaft” (see Wikipedia).

Questions are especially welcome about current events and recent posts (which appear on the top of the right-side menu bar).  Please reply to comments using the REPLY button (to keep the thread together).

(1)  Questions

  1. Why don’t libertarians consider Somalia and Kansas to be similar near-ideal models?  Free markets, low levels of government spending, little regulation, low (and falling) taxes.
  2. Why does Portugal have universal health care and America does not?
  3. What does Greenpeace’s @shellprepared hoax show about America today?
  4. Why is terrorism consider a greater danger to the US than gun-related deaths, despite the body count?  I have no ideas whatsoever as to the answer.  Please give your answer in the comments.

(2)  Review of this week’s news about trends discussed on the FM website

(a) First quote of the Week


“Either we have our strategic priorities all mixed up, or the DoD is doing something very wrong. I would note in passing that Mitt Romney thinks we aren’t spending enough, that we ought to cut taxes even more and that we also need to balance the federal budget.  Needless to say, this combination makes no sense, and Romney (who seems to know a lot about clever accounting when his own fortune is involved) is being disingenuous or simply lying.”

— “Connecting the Dots” by one of America’s greatest geo-political experts – Stephen M. Walt, 18 July 2012

(b)  Obama makes it difficult for Romney’s campaign by copying so many of Bush Jr’s policies

Example number 10,001 of neo-cons praising Obama’s foreign policy: “Where Obama Shines“, David Brooks, op-ed in the New York Times, 20 July 2012

(b)  Romney’s missed opportunity: his speech to the NAACP

He could have built a bridge to them, gaining respect and good press. For example, by disowning the birthers and their delusions. Instead he repeated myths, like that of the widespread success of charter schools (eg, studies by the Stanford U and the Department of Education).

(c)  Second Quote of the Week

“With genuinely well-established scientific theories, ‘consensus’ is not discussed and the concept of consensus is arguably irrelevant. For example, there is no point to discussing a consensus that the Earth orbits the sun, or that the helium molecule is lighter than the nitrogen molecule. While a consensus may arise surrounding a specific scientific hypothesis or theory, the existence of a consensus is not itself the evidence.”

No consensus on consensus, Judith Curry (Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology), Climate Etc, 13 July 2012

Also:  look at the FM Twitter feed on the top of the right-side menu.  Hit the “follow” button and try it out!

25 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website (& a review of the week). Post your questions and answers!”

  1. Submitted by email

    Libertarians have had great success moving America to their ideals. As in states like Arizona and Kansas. Why wouldn’t Somalia, which meets so many libertarian requirements, be their idea of paradise? What’s the difference between Kansas and Somalia?

    (1) Arizona

    See “What’s The Matter With Arizona? A conversation with Senator Rebecca Rios“, Ken Silverstein, blog of Harper’s, 16 June 2010 – It’s a short version of this must-read but subscription-only article: “Tea Party in the Sonora“, Harper’s, July 2010

    (2) Kansas

    Conservatism takes a right turn in Kansas politics“, McClatchy Newspapers, July 2012

    Joe Aistrup, a professor of political science at Kansas State University, said he’s noticed a definite shift to the right in state politics.

    “The line has moved,” he said. “The new version of conservatism that developed in the ’90s was once just held by a fraction of Republicans.” Now, those views are held by a much larger proportion of the electorate, he said. “We’re about to find out how big a proportion,” he added. He sees the 2012 election cycle as a key pivot point. Ideological conservatives have targeted Republican state senators in an effort to add that chamber to the conservative-dominated House and governorship.

    So what is conservative in Kansas 2012? Aistrup said there are several litmus tests. Among them:

    • A strong belief in free markets and minimal regulation of business activity.
    • Favoring large cuts in government spending.
    • Strong support for lowering or eliminating taxes, especially income taxes.
    • A strong “pro-life” position extending beyond traditional opposition to abortion.

    “If you can check all those boxes, that particular candidate fits into that new category of conservative,” Aistrup said.

    Two years ago, Aistrup and fellow political scientist Ed Flentje of Wichita State University co-wrote a book, Kansas Politics and Government: The Clash of Political Cultures, and coined the term “Polar Alliance” to describe the new-style conservatism. The term reflects what they see as a kind of an inherent contradiction in the ideology that opposes government sometimes and promotes it other times.

    1. “Why wouldn’t Somalia, which meets so many libertarian requirements, be their idea of paradise? ”

      From the Libertarian Party website’s statement of principles:

      “No individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government”

      I’d be willing to guess this is a lot more likely in Kansas than Somalia. So while you may have some kind of theoretical point going here, on a practical level, it doesn’t make any sense.

      1. “I’d be willing to guess this is a lot more likely in Kansas than Somalia.”

        Pius wishes do not a society make. That aspect of the Libertarian creed is not a difference between Kansas and Somalia. Kansas has effective government institutions which command force that maintain internal order. Somalia does not have such.

        Jesus said something similar, but that hardly distinguishes Christian states from non-Christian ones.

    2. Let’s try another difference between Kansas and Somalia, that makes the former a conservative paradise and the latter a hellhole.

      No farm subsidies from its neighbors.

      More generally, no coastal States to subsidize them. Kansas gets about $1.12 back per Federal tax dollar paid (2005, per below). That’s what makes it a conservative paradise.

      Arizona got $1.19 back from the Federal government for every $1 it paid.

      Just as many free-market-loving-fanatic libertarians love medicare and social security (but not the purists, however). Government benefits for me, but not for thee.

    3. Maybe the America of Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson is a better representation of what would happen in a libertarian system.
      FM Note, from Publishers Weekly about the book:

      In California of the near future, when the U.S. is only a “Burbclave” (city-state), the Mafia is just another franchise chain (CosaNostrastet Pizza, Incorporated) and there are no laws to speak of, Hiro Protagonist follows clues from the Bible, ancient Sumer and high technology to help thwart an attempt to take control of civilization–such as it is. When he logs on to Metaverse, an imaginary place entered via computer, Hiro encounters Juanita Marquez, a “radical” Catholic and computer whiz. She warns him off Snow Crash (a street drug named for computer failure) and gives him a file labeled Babel (as in Tower of Babel). Another friend, sp ok/pk Da5id, who ignores Juanita’s warning, computer crashes out of Metaverse into the real world, where he physically collapses. Hiro, Juanita, Y.T. (a freewheeling, skateboard-riding courier) and sundry other Burbclave and franchise power figures see some action on the way to finding out who is behind this bizarre “drug” with ancient roots. Although Stephenson (Zodiac provides more Sumerian culture than the story strictly needs (alternating intense activity with scholarship breaks), his imaginative juxtaposition of ancient and futuristic detail could make this a cult favorite.

    4. From wikipedia entry for Snowcrash:

      The story begins and ends in Los Angeles, which is no longer part of what is left of the United States. The time is not clearly specified but internal references are consistent with a date in the early 21st century. In this hypothetical reality, the federal government of the United States has ceded most of its power to private organizations and entrepreneurs.[3] Franchising, individual sovereignty and private vehicles reign (along with drug trafficking, violent crime, and traffic congestion). Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts while private security guards preserve the peace in gated, sovereign housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads rather than the competitors’, and all mail delivery is by hired courier. The remnants of government maintain authority only in isolated compounds where they transact tedious make-work that is, by and large, irrelevant to the dynamic society around them.

      Much of the territory ceded by the government has been carved up into sovereign enclaves, each run by its own big business franchise (such as “Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong”) or the various residential burbclaves (suburban enclaves). This arrangement resembles anarcho-capitalism, a theme Stephenson carries over to his next novel The Diamond Age. Hyperinflation has devalued the dollar to the extent that trillion dollar bills — Ed Meeses — are nearly disregarded and the quadrillion dollar note — the Gipper — is the standard ‘small’ bill. For physical transactions people resort to alternative, non-hyperinflated currencies such as yen or “Kongbucks” (the official currency of Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong).

  2. Mário Fernandes

    From this side (Portugal), simply, we can´t understand why you don´t have an open universal health system. Portugal is so small but no one is out of system…try to spend less in “army toys” and you have enough to help the poor.

    I think it is a shame for America and for is greatness the people could die without help. This is not right!!


    FM Note: This comment has been cross-posted from Affordable Care Act down the mindshaft: asking what it reveals about us, 18 July 2012

    1. Why does Portugal have universal health care while the US does not? Especially since Portugal spends aprox 10% of GDP on health care while the US spends aprox 15%.

      We can only guess at such things. One reason, perhaps, is that libertarianism has not gained a strong grip on Portugal, as it has in America It’s an anti-Christianity, but strong among evangelicals (for reasons that I do not understand).

      Portugal’s strong Christian tradition might have avoided this virus, a pernicious and socially devisive belief that provides the public cover for the social welfare cuts desited by powerful elements of our ruling plutocrats.

      Let’s make this real, not abstract. This is a difference between America and Portugal: “Tea Party Debate Audience Cheered Idea of Letting Uninsured Patients Die“, ABC News, 13 September 2011

    2. “I think it is a shame for America and for is greatness the people could die without help. This is not right!!”

      I think many would agree. But how is Portugal comparable? It is a much smaller society.

      Many people in the states often don’t know their neighbors, let alone care about them– let alone care about people in the neighboring state or on the opposite side of the continent.

      1. “It {Portugal} is a much smaller society.”

        I don’t see the relevance of size to the question of universal health care. It’s not an industry with significant economies of scale.

    3. Oh. I can see your point on a business point of view. But what I mean is coming together to agree on something like this. Perhaps that isn’t correct though.

      1. Every other developed nation has some form of universal health care. Most with some form of mixed public-private system. All operate for a fraction of the cost of ours. Most with equivalent health outcomes.

        This suggests it’s not the difficulty of the task that prevents us from reforming our health care system. The problem lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.

    4. I was just listening to a Norm MacDonald interview in which they were joking about TSA scanners providing the extra service of checking your prostate.

      Somehow this felt oddly relate-able to the debate on national security vs national health care in our priorities in the USA.

    1. Looks like today we have a series of great questions — of types we can only guess at the answers.

      What does Greenpeace’s hoax tell us about America?

      (1) About the hoax by Greenpeace.

      Here’s the video that went viral:


      (2) Some reactions to the hoax

      (3) Lessons learned from the hoax

      This is the Left’s equivalent to the serial exaggerations, misrepresentations, and lies of the Romney campaign — and both have a common cause. Both media campaigns are run by smart people who study and understand the American people.

      • We are not what we were.
      • Lies work better than truth in America.
      • There is no penalty for lies.
      • There is little to be gained by speaking truth to sheeple.

      From Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 1 September 2010:

      Our leaders (both left and right) have discovered that they can successfully lie to us. Insights like that can change the course of nations.

      (4) Historical precedents

      This is not a new phenomenon.

      (a) The Noble Lie, from The Republic

      “this myth … would have a good effect making them more inclined to care for the state and one another”

      (b) The Big Lie: from chapter 10 of Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf

      All this was inspired by the principle — which is quite true in itself — that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.

  3. Why is terrorism consider a greater danger to the US than gun-related deaths, despite the body count?

    Please give your answer in the comments. I have no ideas whatsoever as to the answer.

    Consider these two pieces of information.

    (1) Mass Shootings in the United States Since 2005, Brady Campaign website — It’s 62 pages long.

    (2) Under A Blood Red Sky“, Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, 21 July 2012 — Excerpt:

    Since 9/11, U.S. officials have steered America’s vast law enforcement apparatus around to the idea that it is more important to prevent crimes from occurring than it is to punish criminals for committing those crimes; that the potential loss of life is too great a price to pay for a reactive approach to terror crime. That’s why we are dropping missiles on the heads of terror suspects abroad, why we tortured men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and why we can’t close Guantanamo Bay. This shift in focus– from punishment to prevention, from the reactive to the proactive– has sorely tested the Constitution. And it explains virtually every official act in the war on terror since the Twin Towers fell.

    Yet, evidently, its a concept that has no bearing on the gun debate. Since 9/11, the Brady Campaign tells us, there have been an estimated 334,168 gun deaths* in the United States, a figure that includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional shooting deaths. The total is 100 times larger than the toll of September 11, 2001. Each year, since that day, approximately 30,000 people have been killed by firearms in America. Yet there has been no cry for state or federal policies of prevention over punishment, no loud call for a proactive rather than a reactive approach to gun violence. Imagine how different America would be today if those figures tolled for acts of terrorism instead of acts of gun violence.

    Since September 11, 2001, we have had not one but two United States Supreme Court rulings recognizing an individual constitutional right to bear arms. Both of these rulings, crafted by the Court’s conservative majority, were nonetheless careful to contemplate the possibility of reasonable gun regulation. But that assumes the political will to enact and implement such regulation– and also to enforce existing gun regulations in an efficient and aggressive way. How many lives would be spared if law enforcement officials enforced existing gun laws as aggressively as they pursue the war on terror? We’ll never know the answer to that question, will we. Such enforcement will never happen.

    1. Its a great question, and it has been asked for years in many different iterations. Why do people worry about terrorism when they are more likely to be hit by lighting, or an order of magnitude more likely to die in a car accident? “How Scared of Terrorism Should You Be?“, Ronald Bailey, Reason, 6 September 2011.

      I think there are numerous answers. Maybe psychologically, people are less scared by the banal than the extreme (omg, flesh eating bacteria!). Moreover, the mass media sensationalizes terrorism, not car accidents. Finally, those in power making policy have more to gain from terrorism than car accidents (i.e. increased federal power, more federal spending for favored industries, a nice excuse to kill people and interfere in other countries).

      1. I agree on all points. But are all those causes of the same magnitude? Perhaps one is even a driver of the others?

        “those in power making policy have more to gain from terrorism than car accidents”

    2. I think your obviously correct. Even though America’s regular mass shooting atrocities are “terrorist attacks,” the politicians see no opportunity to use those attacks to push certain foreign policy and domestic goals. The policy change indicated by our mass shootings is gun control, and that is political anathema because rural states have dispraportionate power.

      What is interesting is that, anectdotally only, it seems to me that the news coverage after a terrorist attack is, “OMG, how scared should we be, what should the government do to protect us, and who do we need to kill?” The coverage after one of our home grown atrocities is, “OMG, did he kill everyone because he was in the tea party, because of violent video games, heavy metal music…blah blah blah.” “Half-Assed Media Speculation About the Batman Shooter“, Matt Welch, Reason, 28 July 2012.

      If the Batman shooter was a muslim with links to Al Queda or the Muslim Brotherhood, I guarantee that things would be in a frenzy right now.

  4. I have any idea that municipalities, states, and ever the Federal Government could run their economies the way project managers run business ventures. Specifically, to make targeted investments to alleviate bottlenecks along the critical path to predetermined notions of economic prosperity. These economic bottlenecks could be anything that holds back or otherwise constrains economic activity. The investments would be things like transportation systems (highways, trains), expanded housing stock, power stations, or small business financing in areas where the low supply of such is constraining the free flow of people, information, and products.
    I got this idea when I stumbled upon the website of a Chinese financial institution that supports infrastructure projects in China. A selling point (in English translation) was apparently targeted at regional government leaders and went something like “we’re your prime solution for relieving economic bottlenecks.”
    I realize it’s very optimistic to expect such high ideals on this side of the Pacific Ocean. It would of course require good intentions all around, good incentives for local leaders, and good controls to prevent abuse.
    Sun Tzu said “Management of many is the same as management of few. It is a matter of organization.”
    Just like it’s one step up from managing small businesses to managing large ones, I believe it can be one more step up to effectively manage municipalities, or more.
    Fabius Maximus often talks about our country’s ‘broken OODA loop’. Could effective top-level management, with eyes toward relieving economic bottlenecks be part of the solution?

  5. An interesting take on libertarianism: What’s wrong with libertarianism at The Metaverse.

    And a question to FM and his readers:

    When it comes to political matters, why do normally reasonable people get trapped in insane ideology? Where I work, one of the partners is a completely partisan right winger. In other matters, he is a nice guy, and completely rational. When it comes to politics and what the effects of policy is, he becomes irrational. On the other hand, one of the partners is a died in the wool liberal, who is a hardcore Obama supporter. He refuses to recognize the evils that Obama has perpatrated, and that would have had him frothing at the mouth if it came from Bush. Is propoganda really that powerful?

    1. (1) Libertarianism

      (a) Also see the ur-rebuttal to libertarianism: “If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride — A Pony!“, John & Belle Have a Blog, 6 March 2004.

      (b) Question for our readers: how do Christian libertarians reconcile their beliefs? They see quite imcompatable, IMO.

      (2) “why do normally reasonable people get trapped in insane ideology?”

      We are the kind of people to whom facts are logic are not the most effective appeal. As described in the first of the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis:

      But are you not being a trifle naif? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.

      But what with the weekly press and other such weapons, we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

      (3) “Is propoganda really that powerful?”

      Yes. Advertising and public relations are multi-billion dollar industries (and that doesn’t count the massive propaganda efforts of NGOs). All that money is spent because it works. But not always to the same extent. This, like most things, varies over time with the character of the people (a major concern of the Founders, as seen in the Federalist Papers).

      And the future might see development of even more powerful tools to influence people’s thinking.

    2. Attempting to answer Fabius’ question 1 b, the prosperity gospel might be a good place to start.

      The “logical” extension of such thinking is that the rich are better than the poor, and since God affects who is rich and poor, being poor becomes the result of a character flaw, which means that the poor must be bad people and therefore aren’t deserving of aid, etc. Such reasoning also meshes well with the corporate mindset of profits over people, which helps to explain how the various supporters of the Republican party are able to co-exist and co-operate.

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