Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

From the frozen lands of New England, I would like to say "Merry Christmas" and to steal a little bit of the liturgy, "The Peace of the Lord be with you."

Monday, December 8, 2008

I Meant to Do This Yesterday

So now I'm one day too late to remind everyone to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day.
But I can still give my thoughts on it. I am a member of what may be the last generation to have an opportunity to know some of the sailors who were at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. To have heard from their lips the vivid memories they carry from that day is a powerful thing. I cannot do their story justice and will not even try to convey the weight of what that day and its repercussions meant for the history of the world.

Would the United States have been drawn into World War II? That I can answer as a certain yes. Would the war have had the same end result? Probably, but it may have lasted longer and caused more suffering, or not, had we been more prepared to enter. We will never know. What we do know is that we must never let the loss of the members of our Armed Forces ever be forgotten or marginalized. For without those willing to fight for their country and against tyranny and the inspiration of those who have done so in the past, we will crush ourselves with an inability to act when it is necessary and even when it is hopeless but there is no other option.

As Winston Churchill once said,
Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without
bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so
costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds
against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There may be a worse
case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is
better to perish than to live as slaves.

Finally, I would like to leave you with a transcript of the speech by Franklin Roosevelt from this day sixty-seven years ago.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

International Reaction

I was asked last week if I knew what the reaction of the international community has been to the election of Barack Obama. Since I haven't been following international papers too closely, I thought it was a good time to take a look. The Huffington Post compiled a short list of reactions here. From the looks of things, I'm not surprised to see the general reaction from more socially liberal countries like England and Australia as a positive change in American politics. What strikes me as a telling undertone is the impression that the new President will lead America in a new effort of global partnership with Europe. The only problem is the new administration is already talking about protecting American industry to jump-start our economy. Protectionism won't help the global economy. So that also tells me the other nations are not as concerned with their economic well-being as they are with protecting their ideological demagoguery.

As an aside, I just noticed this little aspect of Obama's plan.
A New American Jobs Tax Credit: Obama and Biden will provide a new temporary tax
credit to companies that add jobs here in the United States. During 2009 and
2010, existing businesses will receive a $3,000 refundable tax credit for each
additional full-time employee hired. For example, if a company that currently
has 10 U.S. employees increases its domestic full time employment to 20
employees, this company would get a $30,000 tax credit -- enough to offset the
entire added payroll tax costs to the company for the first $50,000 of income
for the new employees. The tax credit will benefit all companies creating net
new jobs, even those struggling to make a profit.
Basically, what he's saying is that he'll relieve taxes on struggling businesses so that they will hire more people and put even more of a strain on their budgets. What? How does that make sense? A business will only hire more people if they are making enough money to cover the cost and need another person to do work that is getting over looked without enough employees.

However, there is at least one country somewhat concerned by the election's results: Israel. Israel's concern is probably well founded. While the Jewish state does not rely on the US for protection, it is certainly comforted by the knowledge that it has our support in its struggle against neighboring states who would like nothing more than the dissolution of Israel. The case for Israel's existence has been heated and the conflict is well documented. If the US is seen as supporting the enemies of Israel, then I'm afraid I assume the Israeli military will be fully prepared to do what it sees fit to defend the continued integrity of the county. Whether or not we might get dragged into it.

Overall, the international reaction reflects a belief that the US has shifted to a mindset more in line with European schools of thought. I believe that the answer to whether or not that sort of shift would be good for the people of the United States lies in an examination of the collective economies of the European Union. (The CIA has a pretty good run down in public domain.) I know that mere numbers and economic output cannot measure the well-being of a population, but it is a good indicator of the way of life and that has direct impact on well-being.

Edit to Add: Al-Quida has made their opinion clear. I'm not surprised, but I do wonder if they will try to push Obama's buttons more than they would have another leader's.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Economy of Coercion

John Stossel's latest column at Town Hall echoes some of my latest reading material. Stossel makes his point far more eloquently than I would, but it won't prevent me from trying to expand on what he wrote. Von Hayek wrote about why government cannot run an economy better than the Invisible Hand made famous by Adam Smith. A government run economy depends on experts in their field to plan the best route for production and, through that, the best route for consumption. The major flaw with this is that experts have a very narrow scope of vision, primarily the field in which they have studied. What happens then is they all vie for the important aspects of their division to be paramount while not being able to comprehend the total interaction of all aspects of the economy.

If the experts can't put it all together, how can the average citizen, you ask? Simple, the average citizen merely has to concentrate on that which is pertinent to his or her life. When you have an entire populace looking out for number One, the invisible hand appears. Market forces shape the flow of commodities by making the most used products and industries buy more and industries and products that aren't economical fall off the map or become a specialty and niche market. It makes for a very fluid and sometimes unpredictable economy. However, it also creates something of a market Darwinism, an evolution of production. Those companies that are useful and have a working business model profit and continue be useful in the economy; those that lack those things fail and remove the excess fat and chaff from the market.

Yes, a free market makes uncertainty a part of life, but it also drives innovation and development. The liberal ideas that sparked the explosive growth of the past three- hundred years still work but they also mean that we must be able to understand that sometimes things must change to continue that growth. This brings me to my next point: What will happen if we bail out the Detroit automakers? What happens when we artificially prop up failed business models? In the short run, a bail out may allow the companies to free up and divert capitol to projects that make them more competitive. Or it might give them the illusion of a cushion against the current push of the markets and make them even more sluggish in response to changing consumer needs, merely prolonging the death throws of a dieing business model which other companies have already left behind (including the continued leaching by the UAW.) The biggest hurdle the American automakers face in becoming competitive is the cost difference in production compared to their foreign brethren. GM has hourly labor costs (including benefits) of $78 per hour, while Toyota has a mere $35 per cost. At half the cost of labor, the non-union model is more streamlined and can cut consumer cost further. Add to this the perception that Toyota has higher quality cars and you get a compelling reason to cut the chaff that is GM from the economy.

The above is one example where a free market would cause fluctuation and uncertainty, but the economy would come out stronger. What worries me the most about the auto bailout currently proposed would pave the way for nationalization of the auto industry. If the government already owns a portion of the company, how big of a step would it be to buy the rest of it in the name of helping direct the company to more effectively aid the economy? Why does nationalization worry me? If my opening paragraph doesn't paint a clear enough picture, let us examine what happens to any industry when it gets taken over. First, it is important to note that most countries that at one time nationalized various industries re-privatized them later. It seems that the main effect of nationalization is to remove the incentive to innovate: profit for the individual (or group of investors.) Without that drive to innovate the economy stagnates and flounders, see the example of the "progress" experienced by the ultimate example of state control, the Soviet Union. The USSR did increase production under state control with a mandated shift away from agriculture to industry, but it also increased the cost of such development (including the human cost of producing less food,) resulting in the lowering of the standard of living. I suppose that is one way of achieving equality, and perhaps the only way. To make everyone equal you must bring everyone to a common denominator, usually down.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I recently began reading von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and, while I have yet to finish it and therefore cannot give an analysis or review, it started me thinking. What is freedom?
Freedom would seem like it is a very simple concept. Yet, even when you look up the definition, it gets complicated quickly. In a political sense does freedom mean merely an absence of confinement or does it mean the ability to choose one's actions, thoughts, and words? The Declaration of Independence is often thought of when somebody asks about documents of freedom, but it actually never uses the word and only has the word "free" twice. Once in saying "A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people." and once describing the colonies as "Free and Independent States." This tells me that the writers of the Declaration already had a concrete idea of what Freedom means.

"Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of nature, because necessary for his own sustenance." --Thomas Jefferson: Legal Argument, 1770.
"Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual."--Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1819.

When you put those two comments together, you get the image that the word freedom meant the right to live your life as you see fit and to have no one but you responsible for how it turns out. The only restrictions that can morally be placed on your individual freedom is when your actions abridge the liberty and freedom of another individual.

What does this say about government's role in the life of the people? What does it mean when the government is called to care for the "general welfare" of society? Does it mean that government must help the less fortunate members of society or does it mean that government is only there to prevent those who would take advantage of the less fortunate of society from doing so? If government chooses to support the poorer people is that an abridgement of the poor's right to living their own life and their duty as free people to take responsibility for themselves?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A well done speech...

As I've said before, I am not a scholar of American politics but some events warrant comment.

Overall, I found the speech given last night to be very well done, hopeful, and humble. But President-elect Barack Obama said a few things that make me wonder how his vision will color his leadership. He said that he will be not only a president for those who voted for him, but attentive to the concerns of those who oppose him. A very hopeful sign for a president trying to unite a country. If he can stay away from the non-centrist record tailing along behind him, he can be a leader for all of this fine country.

However, one or two sections from the speech caught my attention.
This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

I have no problem with the idea of renewing the old American sense of helping our neighbor. It is something required of us as Christians. However, a government pushed sense of duty and sacrifice is a common thread among states that become more than the people wished. And worse. With our Constitution and the strength of our people, I don't see us slipped into that dark pool. That being said, what if our leaders consider the Constitution out of touch and out-dated? What if they decide that the ideals that shaped our founders are not applicable to the situation of today?
That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

He has said before that our paradigm is flawed, this only reinforces my fear that the standard by which our laws and dreams are judges will become warped with time, even more than time has already done to the proud writings handed down to us to help guide our country when it needs the advice required to maintain our "more perfect union." Not our "perfect union," but a "more perfect union." Perfection is unattainable and we should not change that which has allowed us to flex and grow.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Election Day, USA

Kind of like a birthday and a New Year celebration, without the fireworks. Presidential elections mark a new parcel of history with each consecutive president, like birthdays, as well as another chance to tell our politicians what direction we want the country to take, like New Year resolutions. However, like a birthday, the day after seems like just another day of the same old life and like a resolution, we never seem to quite attain the lofty goals we started out with. But, no matter who gets elected or what happens in the election, life goes on and we all strive for our personal goals and dreams and if we miss the mark this time, well, there is always the congressional election in two years to correct ourselves.

I do have a few quotes I would like the reader to ponder as they go to the election booth though. These have no bearing on the platforms either of the major parties have put forth, but I believe they do remind us of what sort of mindset we should have when viewing our political leaders and choosing the right type of person for the job.
"A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self- preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property, and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means." --Thomas Jefferson to John Colvin, 1810

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of
servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in
peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand
that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." -- Samuel

"A people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary iscouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty: and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it." -- John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861

And finally, Thomas Jefferson summed up the reason behind our Constitution:
"Free government is founded in jealousy, not confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind those we are obliged to trust with power.... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." -- Thomas Jefferson, 1799

Happy voting, everyone.

Friday, August 29, 2008

US Politics

So, McCain announced his running mate today.

He proved he hasn't lost his edge of doing something unexpected. In naming Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin he positioned himself well. I think.

Not only does she have somethings McCain lacks, such as youth and executive experience (something the opposing ticket lacks completely), she also has a track record of fighting for what she believes in, just like McCain.

I don't know much about her, but I expect we will all be finding out much more in the coming months.

Some one pass the popcorn, please. This is going to get interesting.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Is There Truth in Правда?

It has been a little while since my last post, and quite some time since the last time I touched on the problem of Russia. With the recent invasion of Georgia, I decided to delve into that complicated subject. First, I want to know what Russian news is saying about it. Правда, the state run news service, has a number of stories on the matter. What I find most interesting about the writings in Pravda is the heavy handed style of reporting. For example, the article on overt US support of Georgian aggression seems less concerned with facts and more with stating the approved opinion, editorial style.

I also find some of the justification for Russia's actions, in their own words, a bit alarming.
"A[s] for history, the question of separatism – Georgia or Ossetia – is disputable. It was Georgia which decided to pull out from the USSR, whereas the Ossetians protested against such a decision. "
Where have we seen this sort of reasoning in recent history? It seems to me that the last time the world dissolved into conflict, one country had been touting the right and duty of all people of a certain national heritage to flock back to their "homeland" or the Fatherland... A country which stated after mediation that "We want no Czechs." Then proceeded to invade the whole of eastern Europe.

Russia's advance into Georgia has been mediated. They cry peace, pending the resolution of South Ossetia and Abkhazia's desires to secede. Desires which I am sure will be influenced by their rescuers and occupiers, the military of their neighbor to the north.

It seems to me that Russia's initial advance was a little too quick to be purely motivated by the idea of sparing Georgian citizens from the ravages of a civil war. Although there is international precedent for stepping in to halt civil war, it has generally only been done after human rights atrocities in the conflict, such as in the case of Bosnia. However, there is also a good case for allowing internal conflict to remain internal, especially when dealing with Russia stepping into a conflict outside its borders, e.g. Austria-Hungary. I hesitate to say that this conflict could ever escalate the way either of the history lessons earlier did, but that would also require knowing what the southern neighbors in the region will do in reaction to and/or in support of Russia.

In the interest of comparison, BBC and CNN have slightly different takes on what is happening in the region.

Side note: I just noticed this article from the BBC. A little something to further annoy the former Soviet Union when they are trying to consolidate the old lines of influence.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Back to the US legal system.

It's been a little while since I posted here, so I'm starting back in with something simple: separation of Church and State.

I know, hardly a simple topic, but nothing in Constitutional Law is easy. However, I think in this case it's a little more straight forward. There is a case being brought against the U.S. Department of Defense by an atheist army soldier.

The text of the First Amendment is as follows: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What does that mean in this case? From the article, I gather that the majority of the soldier's complaint stems from his treatment by other soldiers rather than from formal actions of the military. If that is the case, I can't see how the case can have merit. In order to attain freedom of religion, the military can't keep anyone from practicing their religion, right? What if part of that religion involves the belief that one must evangelize? In that case, to prevent soldiers from attempting to convert someone would be restricting freedom of religion, would it not?

However, if the military, in it's official capacity, treated Spc. Jeremy Hall any differently than any other soldier then the case does have merit. In the eyes of a bureaucracy, a soldier is just a soldier and is dealt with according to the rules set out in triplicate. Or so it should legally be.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Looking at the Theoreticals

I seem to be hearing more and more from the doom and gloom school of thought about our current economic status. So, it seems to be time to take a look at some of the economics at play.
First, let's examine the weakening dollar. The US economy is still one of the world's largest, assuming the EU is counted as one economy. If you don't count the EU as one unit, we are only ahead of our next closest competitor (China) by 6.8 trillion dollars, or 11 trillion ahead of our closest European competitor (Germany.) Therefore, a weak dollar is only a huge impact on our global economic standing if you look at it from where we are, at the top. In addition, it affects our purchasing parity, meaning we can't buy as many foreign goods. To look at it another way, it makes domestic goods a better choice than imports. To simplify that we have to compare apples to oranges, the American apple vs. the Global orange. Apples still cost us the same amount, but an orange is now more than an apple. This also means that American apples are less expensive globally than oranges; more global consumers can buy apples too. You see what I mean, a weaker dollar means that we import less and export more, doing very good things for our trade deficit.
Second, the complaint of rising unemployment. We have an unemployment rate of 4.6%. In theory, this puts at just about the minimum rate, due to job fluctuation. Also, compare that to a worldwide average of 30% and it looks even better for us.
Last, I want to take a look at the much maligned housing market which my real life job is very dependant upon. The worry we all hear about is the rise in foreclosure rates, with one number I saw saying that foreclosures are "up 30%." But what does that mean? It means that now 1 out of every 172 loans defaults, primarily in the segment of loans which would never have been approved by conventional loan methods. However, the latest measurements also state that the rate would have dropped if it weren't for large spikes California, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona. While we have seen a market slowdown in development and home sales, they still sell and they still develop. Its a slump driven by overproduction and will self correct given time. Thank you, Adam Smith.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Back to China, and Its Less Loving Activities

After my hiatus working on other projects, such as a new blog and my actual job, I wanted to get back into the swing of things with a post about my favorite subject: China. The last time I brought up the PRC, I talked about its tying itself into the world economy and its developing economy at home. This time I would like to take a look at the downside of those efforts.
We have seen the reports on China's growing economy and we have all heard of the problems with pirated software and cheap knockoffs from China, but how many of us know how much counterfeiting is going on in that country and how much is being done about it? Worse yet, how much does it effect our daily lives?
All of those questions are easy to ask but hard to answer, partially because they are so intertwined. In order to comply with World Trade Organization regulations, China has had to publicly crack down on counterfeiting, but state owned factories are in on the game. See how complicated it has become already? Another complication to the ending the Chinese piracy is how wide spread it is. They manufacture anything from soap and shampoo to peanut butter and beer, cell phones to software, even fake motorcycles and car parts. Some estimates of the market penetration are a conservative 30% of all products sold. The shear breadth of the counterfeiting is costing legitimate businesses millions to develop means to identify the real deal from the fakes, whether it be Budweiser's temperature reactive label or Microsoft's (now faked) holographs on the boxes.
One of the reasons China is so lax on cracking down on piracy is that the state is well aware of the technological disadvantage its companies are at. Their tech base is about a decade behind most fully industrialized countries. The government aids the state run economy through efforts to steal technology from other countries to bring itself into closer competition on the world market. Like all espionage, the PRC does not limit itself to consumer goods and has had many high profile investigations into attempts to steal classified military information. This is an interesting look at China's spying tactics, for those who are interested.
Why is all of this a concern for us? After all, it's not like they are getting the one up on our industries and will be selling high quality items that do new and different things, right? Well, that isn't the concern. What the counterfeiting does to our economy is send in lower quality items (that still work) at much lower prices. The influx of low priced goods undercuts our demand economy and undermines the years of R&D and the millions of dollars in development and branding spent by our companies. It decreases the incentive to develop and makes the reputations of the companies fall. Do we really want that to happen?

Monday, February 11, 2008

I have been meaning to finish my post on China, but instead this article caught my eye. While Khomeini may not have been the most popular of rulers in the eyes of the West, he and his religious revolution had a moral compass to fall back on to justify his actions. Also, his followers and clerical successors have been, dare I say it, more open minded than the current leader of Iran. Their defeat in these elections only serves to strengthen Ahmadinejad's power base, strengthened through a political caste without the sometime restraints of a religious point of view, leaving only a leadership devoted to the altar of realpolitik.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Changing China

In an earlier post, I mentioned China briefly and would like to open that can of worms just a little bit further today. When I was in college, I wrote a paper which detailed why I believed China would continue to integrate itself into the world economy and power structure in a peaceful manner. I argued this in light of China's emerging economy, its liberalizing labor laws, and China's changing attitudes toward trading on a global scale. In many ways, I still stand by this assessment, but it is also disturbing to note that China is becoming a dichotomous country in terms of its outlook on the world around it.

One, China's economy needs outside sources for technology and outside markets. Chinese companies are beginning to invest in other countries in the region and the world, trying to integrate themselves into an already strong Occidental market. With China's manufacturing ability and immense manpower, production is not a problem. What is a problem is the lack of the technological base possessed by the West, specifically the educational and scientific advantages in the United States. China can buy the technology it needs, but this can be costly. They can also reverse engineer or steal the technology they need, but this can be dangerous. Just because they know how we make something does not mean that they can replicate it. Yes, they can follow the plans but they may not have the high quality equipment to make it correctly, leading to low quality copies, almost like a dirty Xerox copier where you can see what its supposed to be, but you can't use it nearly as well. Also, as part of China's search for a market for its goods, they will sell to anyone who can buy, including states which have a historically strained relationship with China, such as North Korea, and states with a strained relationship with the United States, such as Iran.

G. John Ikenberry points out that China can grow into the current world structure, or can grow in opposition to it. He uses several examples, first that the United States grow into the world structure around the turn of the 20th century, and subsequently changed the world power structure peacefully and without damaging the countries in Europe where the power had formerly resided. Second, he points out that Germany in the same time frame grew its economy and military at a high rate, and then challenged the rest of Europe. I think that China can learn from this history lesson, because, even though Germany had a much larger and better trained military as well as a larger economic base, the old guard still defeated them resoundingly. Unfortunately that defeat led to Germany's rise in the 1930's and Hitler's attempt to lead the country into its former glory. It would be to China's advantage to grow within the current world economy, as it already has a large stake in it. To disrupt that trade and anger those sources of income would unnecessarily hamper economic growth.

However, no matter what China's new economic policies are, we must remember that it is a socialist state and does not always do what we as capitalists would consider is in its best interest. As a developing country, the largest portion of its economy is still agriculture, however the policies which drive economic growth also mirror socialist Russia's environmental degradation. In order to become a major world player, China is destroying itself. Accordingly, the good of the country is to the detriment of the people. The aggressive state lead growth has lead to other aspects falling by the wayside, something that in a truly capitalist economy is much less likely to happen due to consumer and workforce pressures.

I think that this is all for now. I will continue in a later post with a, hopefully, more structured analysis.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hardly Normal

Hardly what we would consider normal people, terrorists are in a class of insanity all to themselves. They believe that, through their extreme actions and horrendous displays of disregard for their fellow man, they can actually bring about lawful change through unlawful measures. The US military released records of al-Qaeda recruitment in Iraq of foreigners to fight for their beliefs. These documents, seized in Sinjar, remind us of how well organized international terror actually is. They also point to some hopeful signs for Iraqi development.

First, the papers have forced a revised estimate of not only where the terrorists are coming from, but also which kind of attack is perpetrated by whom. The revision of the nationalities of suicide bombers from 75% foreign to 90% is a glimmer of hope for that troubled country. Suicide bombings are probably the most effective killer in the jihad-ist's arsenal and the fact that the vast majority of those willing to perpetrate such acts are not Iraqi speaks volumes for the Iraqi peoples' commitment to the emerging government and the faith they put in its ability to improve their lives.

Second, the demographic distribution of the recruits should not be terribly surprising. A large number were students. Think about demographics here in the United States; which one is the most likely to adamantly and vocally support ideological causes? Students, being younger, less experienced, and more likely to arrogantly believe that they are the only ones able to see the "truth" and must therefore be the voice of whatever their cause is, are more prone to becoming activists the world over. They are young enough that they still search for role models, and old enough that they can be manipulated into making foolish decisions without fully considering the ramifications of their actions. In the case of Islamic terrorism, this demographic can be molded into the perfect martyr, someone who blithely believes in the twisted ideology of the terrorist network, someone who can be convinced to put their life on the line for the teachings of an extreme sect of one of the world's largest religions.

Finally, the documents point to the level of organization that the largest Islamic terrorist organization in the world really has. As the article (linked above) points out, bin-Laden was a businessman before he was a terrorist, a very successful one at that. That background, as well as a need to coordinate strategy, lends itself to a structured approach to terrorism. I believe that the papers found in Sinjar do more for our intelligence networks than merely identifying areas to keep an eye on. We already knew that areas where there is conflict centering on Islamic fanaticism are areas to watch for those same fanatics becoming terrorist leaders elsewhere, using the strategies they implemented at home. Recruitment records may also help us focus on not only where, but who and how terrorists are enlisted. Records of any organization help us to understand how it works, and if al-Qaeda really does operate more like a corporation than we originally thought, that makes it that much more predictable and easy to track. Unfortunately, as we have learned with the drug cartel, it also makes it that much more effective.

My food for thought for the day, however, is a reflection on the mindset of a terrorist. The now famous saying "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" offers insight into what really drives a terrorist. Belief. No man willingly fights for a cause he does not believe is right. No amount of "focusing on the root causes" of terrorism will stop certain groups from forming. When people talk about alleviating the economic disparity or the foreign policy of western nations being the cause of the rise of terrorist cells, they ignore the fact that many terrorists (especially the leaders) are from affluent backgrounds and highly educated, many through the western university system. Most people are uncomfortable with the idea that to really stop terrorist growth, you must stop the belief that gives rise to it. To do this however, would also lead to the ability to stifle any beliefs that run contrary to what the governing authority wants you to believe. I am in no way supporting the radical thoughts that give rise to terrorism, nor am I supporting the groups themselves. I am saying that unless we as a culture change our way of thinking, there is no feasible way to end terrorism.

This essay offers an interesting and fairly accurate insight on why we are unable to end our generations plague. Many of my generation are hung up on the concept taught to most of us in government schools that we must tolerate everyone else's beliefs. What is not discussed is when it is appropriate to stop tolerating and confront a dangerous ideology, when toleration of others leads to compromising one's own beliefs because the others believe they need not tolerate your beliefs. People in our country need to remember the words of John Stuart Mill, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling that thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

Then again, deep down I think all of us understand the idea of dieing for a cause.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From Russia With Love

In my last post I briefly mentioned my concerns over Russia and its actions in the Middle East, I would like to take this space to comment on my growing concern over Russia's actions and political developments. When the Cold War ended almost two decades ago, it seemed that the USSR under Gorbachev and then Russia under Yeltsin would be able to slowly re-integrate itself to the expanding global economy. Gorbachev started the trend toward real economic development and integration with the glasnost and perestroika policies, gradually pulling his government away from state domination of the internal markets, allowing for foreign competition, and releasing the communist strangle hold on civil liberties. With the demise of the Soviet Union and the election of Boris Yeltsin as the first ever popularly elected leader of Russia, the country continued to attempt a decentralization of economic power and the privatization of corporations. Unfortunately, much of the corruption present under communist rule remained in place and derailed the planned economic development, centralizing it once again. After Yeltsin's resignation, Putin was elected by the people to contain the corruption and expand economic freedom. Here is where Russia's progress becomes cloudy.

Putin has led an interesting life, and I think it offers insight into the man's leadership style and goals. He has a history of combining state positions, but only to consolidate his own power. Beyond that he has ballooned the size of the bureaucracy (11-17% in 2005 alone) and nationalized corporations in an attempt to regulate and control economic growth. By statistical standards, he has succeeded in leaps and bounds with an economic growth rate of 6.7%, compared to the US's rate of 2.9%. Growth in personal incomes has been approximately 12% per year. While these figures are good, there are some problems. The most well known problem in Russia's economy is the well-publicised corruption and organized crime network, both of which act as a funnel for wealth away from the Russian labor force. Also, there is the problem of not having a diverse basis of exportable products. The majority (80%) of exports consists of market driven commodities, such as oil, natural gas, metals, and timber. With any sort of global downturn in the market, or even a recession within one of Russia's major trading partners, a major source of income could vanish. As I mentioned in the last post, much of the state's exports in industrial goods comes in the form of military technology and equipment. Lastly, while productivity and income are up, they still lag far behind the rest of the developed world. Russia's work force is about half of that of the United states and the total GDP is one thirteenth of ours. Russia's GDP per capita in 2006 was just over $12,000, as compared to the United States GDP per capita of around $43,000. None of that can sit well with the world's only former-superpower.

In addition to the economic troubles, some of Russia's policies are disconcerting as well. Putin has developed such a cult-of-personality (his 2000 election was with a 56% majority vote, followed by the 2004 election by over 70% of the vote, along with a high approval rate) that he can organize the wildly popular youth movement, the Nashi, and even name his successor, Dmitri Medvedev. Putin's nationalistic youth movement indoctrinates the next generation of leaders to state (read: Vladimir Putin) approved ways of thinking and revisionist history, glorifying the exploits of the USSR. The group is strikingly reminiscent of the Hilter-Jugend in the 1930's, even being accused of silencing dissenting voices within the country. Also, Russia's handling of the situation with Chechnya demonstrates the lessons in diplomacy Putin learned during his time in the KGB. Finally, Putin's ability to virtually assure Medvedev's election this year tells me that the former state security officer become president will continue to be a major player in the formation of policy and diplomatic affairs.

Let us not forget, Putin is a man who was trained by one if the best propaganda machines the world has ever seen, the KGB. Win the hearts and minds of the people, or beat them into agreement, all is fair in the secretive and brutal world of the secret police.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Increasingly Irate Iran

Today I found yet another example of Iran's (or the Iranian government's) distaste for America and a dangerous willingness to attempt teasing a tiger. Contained in this article MSNBC ran today is an account of Revolutionary Guard boats trying to play pin the tail on the donkey with American warships. According to MSNBC, Iran’s Foreign Ministry seemed to claim a case of ignorance on the part of its forces. For the men of these five boats to have deliberately tried to provoke a confrontation with U.S. military forces would be disturbing enough, but for them to have not realized the ships they were accosting were a United States Navy destroyer, frigate, and cruiser would be down right frightening. Iran has a history of trying to provoke responses from its neighbors, see Ahmadinejad's statements regarding Israel, and trying to provoke the militaries currently in the region, see the capture of fifteen British troops last year.

For a country that has behaved erratically in the international political arena and supports terror and tyranny to become so brazen spells out a recipe for another cataclysmic conflict, not only inside the borders of one Middle Eastern country, but one that boils out of the region and pulls in supporters from all sides and for all side. Russia, with its internal politics increasingly mimicking the politics of a generation ago, has already drawn its line in the sand by selling arms to Iran. China's shaky relations with Iran and burgeoning trade with America only puts a cloud over where that county's imposing military may find itself, should conflict erupt.

I'm afraid it's not so much an "if" Iran will cross the line, it's a "when." When that happens, the world must decide how to deal with this tyrannical state. Will we have the moral superiority of Chamberlain and achieve peace in our time? Ahmadinejad has consistently shown that he has very little respect for diplomatic measures. Why should we extend him that courtesy?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Production and Consumption

As I spent part of the day lazily flipping from link to link this article on the New York Times' website caught my eye. The article itself is well worded but somewhat deceptive in its presentation. It effectively presents the same style of Malthusian argument that we have been plagued with for centuries, merely using statistics rather than theoretical and philosophical statements. The problem I have always had with arguments based on statistics is that very few people understand the field of study of which those numbers are products. Therefore, a concrete integer, quantifying a problem in a way that looks simple and easy to understand, can be used to fool people into thinking that they know the basis of an argument without ever actually having to show them any real data. In the case of this article, the now-classic statement about dwindling oil supplies echoes the argument Thomas Malthus made over two hundred years ago about the human population outgrowing the world's capacity to supply food, thereby starving the population. In the same way, the argument that the world has x years before we deplete our fossil fuel supply has been around since the 1970's. Since the early 70's x has stayed roughly the same. Does that mean we have found better ways to extract oil? Does that mean we had horrible estimates of the world's reserves? Does that mean that we have better production methods? Or does it mean that we have no idea what forces are behind the creation of crude and are using fear as a motivator?

Essentially, the statement that we must cut our consumption in order for the rest of the world to be able to increase their own consumption has a few flaws that should be glaringly obvious to anyone who wishes to look at the argument from a purely logical perspective. First, the assumption that the world will run out of resources is flawed. Yes, the world has a finite amount of natural resources, that I will not argue. I will, however, take issue with the assumption that we know what those limits are. One, the estimates of the world's resources vary wildly from report to report, depending on who is running the numbers, how they run them, and the sort of outcome for which they are looking. Two, according to the science upon which these estimates must be based, there is no way to destroy matter. Therefore, we never actually use up resources, we merely convert them to another form of material. (Flippant and pedantic, I know, but true none-the-less.)

The next problem I have with the argument is the underlying elitism in the idea that we must cut back in order for the rest of the world to catch up. Do we really think that we are so far advanced that others can't make it to our level without us lowering the bar? Does it not seem unfair to developing nations that we impose the Kyoto Protocol on them? A plan in which we would be required to cut back on emissions, true, but also a plan which would restrict the use of technology that the developing world could use to bring themselves up the level of technology we take for granted in everyday use. One last thing about the pretension evidenced by this particular argument is the concept that all other people in the world want to live as we do. Even if one can define what it is to live as an American lives, given the disparity in lifestyles in our country, one can by no means claim to know that every one wants to have that way of life. Whether it is because they have a belief system which prevents them from aspiring to aspects of our culture, in the same way that the Amish in America have no desire to live the "American" lifestyle, or something as simple as they have a personality that militates for a simpler life, it is arrogant to assume that we live the ideal.

The simplest of the fallacies to notice, and the simplest to fix if necessary or possible, is the assumption that consumption and population will continue to grow while all other factors remain static. If population grows, then not only will consumption grow, manpower and the work force will expand. With the technological advances of the last century production grew at not merely proportional rates but at exponential rates relative to the workforce. To assume that this trend cannot continue as the rest of the world population grows would be foolhardy. Not only would production increase along with the increased demand of world markets, technologies also will multiply and improve at exponential rates.

While I think that the argument for conservation must be made, I believe it should not be made in such a way as to say that we must conserve or be forced to conserve, as in a statist's plea for the government to make our decisions for us. It seems that the economic remonstration for conservation is more effective than a pseudo-moral appeal to people's emotion. Does it not make more sense to say "Conserve, and you will save money through cutting your wasteful and unnecessary consumption," than to say "Conserve and cut your consumption so that those who are less fortunate may have more?"