Monday, October 31, 2005

On the idea of having allowed the South to secede without the civil war, and whether the US would be better off without the South right now...

The truth is as far as the federal government is concerned, the north-eastern states are net losers in the equation. In all studies done on where federal money is spent it has been shown that the northern states contribute more than they receive and the southern ones receive more than they contribute. This is based on data collected by the Tax Foundation. According to the data for every dollar of federal taxes levied on New Jersey, the state gets 57 cents back in federal funding and contracts. In similar situations are New York, Massachussets and Connecticut.

In addition I really do not see what difference it would have economically. The most likely case is that there would be some sort of EU style economic union, or at least a NAFTA style free trade agreement. So whatever the value the Southern states have economically would not be lost were there to be an amiable parting of ways.

So what if there are major companies in the South? Are they going to stop selling their products in the North or are they going to stop sending dividends to their shareholders in the North?

As far as mentioning Berkshire Hathaway... Since when has Omaha, Nebraska been in the South anyway?

You argue that there are bright lights in the manufacturing sector in the south.. You surely know that the reason for this is because factories in the South often employ lower-waged non-union labor. Oil and natural gas are in any case sold at prices set at a global level as West Coast oil prices after Katrina demonstrated.

Yes America would be weaker militarily and I have already argued that the current military posture is not necessary and even unsustainable. Yes America would have a smaller gross GDP, though I fail to see this having a major negative impact on the lives of the citizens of America.

I was thinking that the South should have been allowed to secede 145 years ago, but if we were talking about today then if anybody should secede its the North-east. Let the United States keep the debt and the defense commitments. There would finally be a functioning 2 party republic, or even better a parliamentary system with a pm. Its not like there are no reasonable Republicans - Senators Snowe, Collins, Specter and Chafee are all from the north-east. The only independent (formerly Republican) senator - Jeffords - is from Vermont. How does the Federal Republic of America sound? (NY,NJ,CT,PA,MA,RI,NH,VT,ME,DE,MD) = GDP of $2.67 trillion = 4th in the world. Population: roughly 60 million. GDP/capita roughly $44,500...

The question is basically, with an economic union established, what value does a political union have if views on all issues are so far apart?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Lincoln's folly.

It seems to me Lincoln should have let the South go. What was so important that 600,000 soldiers had to die for? Is a political union with a bunch of fundamentalist racists really worth that much? And don't say slavery, because that wasn't the crux of the issue. The slaves were freed almost as an afterthought and Lincoln was perfectly willing to allow slavery in order to avoid the war. With the British juggernaut crusading against slavery, it would have probably been eliminated in the South by the late 19th century.

The South could have had its state-based confederacy and the North could have created a centralized country out of the remaining states. That would have avoided the federal-state conflicts that sprung up over time (mostly in the South again). The South could have had its faith-based compassionate-conservative wwjd politics, while the North could have concentrated on the socio-economic questions just as they had come to fore in Europe.

I don't know. It seems that there are two countries here, not one. Even the party system is broken. A Republican from the north-east is at least as liberal as a democrat from the south. Does anybody in the northeast or on the west coast really care about who does what with who and where as long as it hurts no one? What do I care if two dudes want to get married? Of course there are complete nutsos on the liberal side as well. Fur is murder, moral vegetarianism and the living earth stupidities are alive and well in the blue states. At least these groups are small enough to not even have much of an influence on local elections. How many of these guys are in congress? Now compare to the number of bible thumpers.. Now you get your relative distribution of power between the extreme liberals and extreme conservatives.

No wonder things like this pop up on the internet...

routine reminisced, a face shed
a phone call, a meeting set
a hopeful night, a little walk
a dinner served, some useless talk
a door opens, its time to part
the hope born, deserted dies
of ending cumbersome goodbyes.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Leave me be,
so I can ferment,
Let me dream,
so myself I can remember.
Wake me from my nightmares,
so myself I can forget.
Shatter all the mirrors,
as they lie.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff at the Department of State between 2002-2005 trashes the decision-making process in the white house.

Very interesting read... US forces are apparently staying in Iraq for 5-8 years more. Wilkerson believes that leaving now will mean that the Turks might take Iraqi Kurdistan and then the Syrians and Iranians might get involved in the other parts of Iraq. Were this to happen the Iranians would control both the Iranian and southern Iraqi oil fields and be in a good position to destabilize Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The US will then have to go back within 10 years with a larger force to take and secure the oil fields. Wilkerson comes back to the fact that the US uses disproportionate amounts of energy and resources and thus needs secure access to the resources of the Middle East. Unless this changes (unlikely) the US is tied to the Middle East.

There are many other interesting things in Wilkerson's presentation and in the Q&A session that followed. To me the most interesting was the entire intelligence establishment's belief in Iraqi WMDs. This position was apparently supported by foreign intelligence services, including the French, the British and the Germans.

Monday, October 24, 2005

military spending

The us military budget of roughly $500 billion is insane. the capabilities of the us military are so far beyond any of its competitors that it begs the question of whether there really is a need for so much spending.

The US military expects to be able to respond to a crisis anywhere in the world within a week or so. For this purpose the US has 12 carrier battle groups, each capable of taking on the entire airpower of all but perhaps 10 countries. On the seas, in opposition to these 12 carrier groups, the rest of the world could put together perhaps 10 of their own, among which number are included carriers of friendly countries - the Brits (2), the French (1), the Italians (1), the Spanish (1), and the Thais (1). The Russians have one and the Chinese, though they have been buying old Russian carriers and playing around with them (literally) haven't commissioned one of their own. In addition, the non-US carriers are smaller and carry fewer aircraft than American carriers, leading to a situation where out of the roughly 1250 aircraft carrier based aircraft 1000 are American.

In other words, there is no threat to global US navy supremacy. The basing of the carriers, as well as of the US army and air bases definately feeds the conspiracy buffs world-wide with plenty of ammo for their theories of US world domination. Though the US has no colonies, the number of bases it has worldwide is amazing. 20 years ago these could be justified by arguing the need for the ability to deploy anywhere in order to stop a Soviet advance. At present these arguments no longer have any validity. In addition to the omnipresence of US naval reach there is also the fact of US rapid-deployable forces. The special forces, the airborne divisions and the marine expeditionary forces can each be deployed within days to anywhere in the world. The air power needed to dominate any enemy is likewise available in bases world-wide. After a bit of research I am ready to argue that the US can take on all comers without any assistance from allies.

The problem with such a situation is that there is very little gained from this ability. If its not utilized its a lot of money being wasted on the ability, and if it is utilized it is even more money wasted on its utilization. In either case what is it exactly that US gains from such a global reach?

At least the Brits used their military power to extend their economic sphere of influence. Anywhere they went they signed semi-exclusive trading contracts with the locals. Over time these contracts had the effect of pauperizing the natives while creating wealth and export markets for British industry. In any case the army of the British empire was largely subsidized by the natives. This was of course true when the British posessions world-wide were run by quasi-independent private companies (the East India Company for one), but even when these colonies was handed over to the state the profits were still made and kept within the British empire. The British collected taxes and sold their products in their controlled territories. At the same time the British had large numbers of surplus people they could use to control colonies and colonize those most suitable for economic exploitation. Tens of millions of people left the British Isles for settlement abroad. Millions more ran the British colonies abroad, always at the expense of the native populations. The British empire fell apart when they no longer had the excess population to run the empire and when revolts and civil disobedience drives made the colonies unprofittable. Changing morals (the decline in the willingness of the British to slaughter the natives) also contributed to the changes.

What does the US get from its global military presence??? A big bill... Its absolutely insane. Does the US really need 12 carrier battle groups when the closest naval competitor is Britain with 2 small carriers? Does it really need to keep supposedly protecting the Japanese and the Koreans who are perfectly capable of protecting themselves? Against whom do they need protecting? Is there a military commitment to Taiwan and is it worth it? How many aircraft carriers does it take to fight a global war on terrorism? What is the job of the US military in today's world?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ability and Self-Confidence.

Everyone seems to agree that it is important in a society for individuals of that society to be able to perform the tasks needed by it. The common indicator of a society's performance however seems to be the sum of the subjective satisfactions of the individuals of a society with their stations in it. These two ideas lead unfortunately to two different directions. The first direction is to realistically educate members of a society towards being good at performing jobs available in a society and through proficiency in their profession to be happy with their station in life. The second approach is to educate individuals towards being happy and self-confident and with their newly found self-confindence people would happily and proficiently carry out whatever tasks fell upon them. Or so the logic goes. Naturally there are problems with both approaches. In both approaches the flaw lies in the fact that in any society only a small percentage of positions that are available are of high enough societal standing to allow a person employed in them to take any pleasure from his station in life. Additionally out of any group of people some are more naturally capable than others. So in the first approach people will be prepared for their dull and tedious jobs and do them well. In the second most of the people with high self-esteem will have dreamt of doing jobs they aren't capable of and will be unprepared for their dull, tedious jobs and do them poorly. Interestingly in the first approach those that are performing tedious jobs will most likely place most of the blame with the natural structure of society and resign themselves to their tedium while spending their excess time and money on revolutions and in pubs or beerhalls. In the second approach, with its emphasis on the individual, people will blame themselves for their failures and spend their excess time and money on seeing shrinks and reading self-help books. A consequence of this is of course that if any new opportunities open up, they will be more quickly seized by those unresigned to their fate and always working on their self-esteem rather than those drunk on alcohol and content with tedium. The end result of both of these approaches is that both are flawed, since man was never meant to be happy with his station in life, regardless of what it is...

In any case, the sum of the subjective satisfactions of the individuals of a society is more dependent on the weather...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I started thinking about the Middle East thing again. By thing I mean the whole peace process.... The problem with it is twofold. First there are final status issues that can't be immediately agreed upon, partially due to underlying support for contradicting positions within the two populations, and partly due to the lack of trust between the negotiating parties (the Israeli and Palestinian governments). Second, there is the issue of marginal groups, both inside and outside the governments flexing their muscles by playing the wrench in the machine. Without a final status outline it is nearly impossible for either side to deal legitimately ruthlessly with these minorities. One can not act forcefully to facilitate a final status agreement when one isn't sure whether there will be one in the first place.

This was the problem with the Oslo accords. For all their fine language they create essentially no barriers to cheating by either side, or create any rewards to either side for dealing with rowdy elements. The original idea of Oslo was that it would create trust between the negotiating parties, while in fact it did the opposite, because it created incentives for cheating. The Israelis were busy prejudicing final status negotiations by building settlements (something not expressly prohibited by Oslo, in spite of what some may read into it). The Palestinians were in no hurry to deal with their terrorists or to instill the principles of peace and coexistance in their people, quite understandably as well, as these steps are what would be required of them in the implementation of the final status settlement. Once time came for the final status negotiations the two sides were no further in trusting each other than they had been during the Oslo negotiations. Their populations were likewise unwilling to compromise following consistent cheating by both sides.

One possible way of resolving the problems of the Oslo game is to add some major rules to the game. First one needs a proper scorekeeper. Lets say the Quartet (US, EU, UN, Russia) can do this job. Second one needs a means of blurring certain final status issues. This can be done by presenting a range of final status outcomes, say one has Palestinian sovereignty over the entire area of East Jerusalem, the next only gives them the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but only the Muslim & Christian quarters of the old city, the third gives them only the Arab neighborhoods of the city and the Muslim areas of the old city. The next gives them some Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, but nothing in the old city and the last gives them a capital in Abu Dis, outside the borders of Jerusalem and gives the Israelis full control over East Jerusalem. The sides would select a base case to start with, but it would not necessarily be the final one.

Third one needs to build trust and prevent cheating. This can be done by setting up some sort of a scoring system whereby the trangression or failure to act by one or another side would be an own-goal of sorts and would give points to the other side. Thus a terrorist incident would mean x number of points to be awarded by the judge [the Quartet] to the Israeli side. An assassination of Palestinian militants could be x points to the Palestinians. At the end of the prescribed time period of the game, the final status outcome would be chosen from the possible range based on the score to date whereby the 'winning' side would pick from the range of final status outcomes made available to it by its score.

Fourth and most important, there must be a clear definition of one side or the other abandoning the game. Equally important is a penalty on the side that walks away first. The penalty must be very very significant. Say for the Israelis the loss of US financial support and for the Palestinians the loss of their own EU financial support and the Quartet acquiescense of Israeli annexation of major settlement blocs.

The last problem is that of actually getting the sides to sit down and agree to such a game. And of course the problem of formalizing the idea into a formal plan with rules and all.

In all actuality the odds of either side agreeing to anything remotely similar to this is negligible. Such a game would severely limit the options available to both players and places a very high cost on walking away.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Things I learned recently.

I am reading the biography of Paul O'neill - former sec of treasury - bush 43 administration. Basically it claims this administration is being driven by ideogical and political forces with little appreciation for the best long-term interests of the country. People who prefer not to use the scientific method in drawing conclusions and setting up policy. According to the book, the president is an inexperienced fool being led by the nose by those close to him - Rove, Cheney, Hughes and others. They use scripted cabinet meetings and stacked task forces to drive policy in the direction that they desire. Moderate people - O'Neill, Whitman and Powell were being used as fig leafs by the administration to conceal an extreme right-wing policy. Massive tax-cuts were pushed through despite the mutual disapproval of O'Neill and Greenspan, who wanted the tax-cuts to be dependant on the continuation of budget surpluses. Within the administration the tax cuts were backed by supply-side economists. The book also mentions that military action against Iraq was brought up in one of the first cabinet meetings, long before Sept. 11. WMDs in Iraq were cooked up in spite of the CIA, not because of it. All multilateral peaceful approaches to confrontations were ideologically dismissed.

Why can't we have better leaders? How can Bush have been elected, not once, but twice?

I also realized several things by reading the book. First that decreasing corporate taxes should increase stock prices. Second that high-risk dollar-denominated foreign bonds are partially mitigated in risk by the possibility of US-led financial rescue. Its just a matter of asking the question: which countries would the US not allow a default? Is it also not possible to hedge against default by shorting a country's currency?

Moving on.. I also read a book on the British empire (Niall Ferguson - Empire), where tbe author argues that the British empire may have been a force for good and that the US must take over where the Brits left off. He argues that if the British hadn't been in India, the Japanese would have been worse colonialists.. And that the Germans in South Africa would have done much worse than the British. The Brits also can be said to have crusaded for an end to slavery during the 19th century. He also expresses the idea that colonialism actually improved the economic fortunes of the colonized (at least in some places) by creating incorruptible British legal systems in the outlying colonies which would ensure the safety of investments and thus accelerate their flow. He also credits the Empire with bringing civilization to the heathens and leaving many functioning democracies in its wake.

All in all, it was a thought-stimulating read. Some of the conclusions are reasonable, but the question remains: Would people rather be materially better off and ruled by incorruptible foreigners or poor but ruled by corrupt locals? Rationally the answer should probably be the former, realistically historically the answer seems to usually be the latter. If people choose the irrational choice, should we bother asking them? A British imperialist would probably say no and colonize them. An American [neo-imperialist] would just argue that people are rational beings and the question is moot, would then invade and be suprised by the unfriendly welcome, and then surprised again by seemingly irrational election results.

I also read several books on South Africa. The whole apartheid thing interested me a lot, especially the creation of the bantustan states. I think it would be interesting to compare the rump state of Gaza to Transkei or Ciskei. The SA government gave independence to several of the bantustans and the government of Bophutswana in particular initially resisted being absorbed back into post-apartheid South Africa. Interestingly a Boer (white Afrikaans speakers) rebellion was meant to break out to support the independence of Bophutswana before the rebellion was hijacked by complete loons and abandoned by the majority of its intended participants. It was interesting to read how different groups of white South Africans coped with losing power and learning about the rather heinous actions of the white apartheid government. One of these heinous actions was the use of death squads to dispatch black leaders. While the officers in these units were white, the men were often former black anti-apartheid guerillas that were turned.

Bantustans were also tried in Namibia while it was a South African colony. There are some very strange people down there. For example in Namibia there is a very proud group that calls itself 'the Bastards'. They are the descendants of Cape Dutch settlers and native African women. At some point they obtained self-consciousness and as a group trekked north to set up their own colonies in Namibia. They speak Dutch, have Dutch names and declared an independent state in 1872. No one recognized it of course.

South Africa is appealing.. I would want to go there some time. The diversity in that country is very impressive. First you have the 80% of the population which is black, but even these are divided into many tribes and languages - Zulu, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and many others. Then there are the 10% who are whites and these are Afrikaaner, English, Portuguese, French and others. Then there are the Coloureds, who are various mixtures of white, black and malay. There are also the Indians and the Cape Malays. Only problem is that its expensive to fly there and not so safe to be there... Though the safety concern might be overblown, I know in Israel it was.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

fear, fear, frighten frighten
give them something new to bite on
the bird flu, the bird flu, the bird flu is coming
will make all our troubles look like nothing
corruption, scandal, quagmire, war
we can always fool them all!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Hmm... OK.. Lets title this "Americans are stupid"

evolution vs. creationism:
64% of Americans believe that "human beings were created directly by god"
55% of Americans believe that both evolution and creationism should be taught in school
23% of Americans believe that only creationism should be taught.
12% of Americans believe that only evolution should be taught.

ghosts, miracles, devil, hell
miracles (89%), the devil (68%), hell (69%), ghosts (51%), astrology (31%) and reincarnation (27%)
"Even more surprising is that some people who say they are not Christian believe in the resurrection of Christ (26%) and the Virgin birth, Jesus born of Mary (27%)"

76% of the population believes they will go to heaven. 2% that they will go to hell, 4% to purgatory. 89% believe in heaven and 73% believe in hell.

18% of the population believes that the sun revolves around the earth:

48% of Americans read A BOOK over the last year.

46-51% of the adult population would probably not be able to read a book anyway...

some more stats out of "Redneck Nation" by Michael Graham:
70% of Americans believe in angels.
50% of Americans believe they have their own personal guardian angel.
42% - haunted houses
26% - witches
80% - government is hiding the truth about aliens (thanks X-files)
32% - have seen an angel

I am still looking for some stats on American historical and geographical knowledge. In particular I would like to know how many Americans can pinpoint the tiny continent of Asia on a map..

OK, now a basic question. If 51% of Americans believe in ghosts (or in any other belief with wide-ranging support) am I allowed to state that such a view is stupid despite the majority acceptance it has gained?

Yes I am. Its stupid.

What if I was to find a poll where the majority of those polled believed that Montenegro was a country next to Bolivia? Does the fact that the majority believe this fallacy give it any credence?

No. Its still just as dumb.